cover image The Divorce

The Divorce

César Aira, trans. from the Spanish by Chris Andrews. New Directions, $11.95 trade paper (98p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3110-7

A chance encounter triggers a cycle of uncanny stories in Aira’s gemlike latest (after Artforum). The unnamed narrator, newly divorced, is seated outside a café in Buenos Aires with Letecia, a video artist, when a commotion occurs: a man walking his bicycle is drenched by a spill of rainfall from the café awning. Letecia recognizes the cyclist, Enrique, from 15 years earlier, when their school caught fire. In a “multidimensional phenomenon,” the pair sought refuge inside a scale model of the school itself. The narrator also recognizes Enrique—as proprietor of the guesthouse where he is staying—and another story ensues, about a friend of Enrique’s named Jusepe and his apprenticeship to a sculptor who was never seen to sculpt. Finally, the narrator turns to Enrique’s mother, seated at a nearby table, who unspools her own strange tale of strict adherence to a mysterious rule book for the running of a business she inherited. Years later her former employees, having failed to locate the rule book, conclude, “all books were the Manual, and... everyone possessed the key with which to find instructions in them.” In a dream-logic worthy of his Argentine compatriot Borges, Aira makes this notion seem plausible, and elicits a deep sense of wonder at the hidden meaning in the world’s coincidences. This prismatic, exquisitely rendered work is from a master at the height of his powers. (June)