cover image Multiple Choice

Multiple Choice

Alejandro Zambra, trans. from the Spanish by Megan McDowell. Penguin, $15 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-14-310919-8

In this short, experimental book of fiction, Zambra (My Documents) skillfully adopts the form of a standardized test to spin off dozens of micro-tales. The form of the test, which is based on the actual Chilean Aptitude Test Zambra took as a youth, is composed of five numbered sections, totaling 90 questions. The book opens with questions and possible answers that are simply lists of words, not giving Zambra much room to stretch his storytelling wings. The following sections, composed of short sentences, read like flash fiction or prose poems and are frequently amusing and unexpected. Far more compelling are the longer “sentence elimination” sections wherein Zambra is able to deliver a self-contained short story in a handful of pages. In one story, a student convinces his smarter twin brother to take his exam for him. Another story presents a tricky problem for a couple getting married in Chile, when divorce was still illegal there. The final story is a touching message from a remorseful father to his son. Zambra’s writing is intensely tied to his Chilean identity, and nearly every story or text references Chile in some way. In just a few pages he manages to be repeatedly engaging, smart, funny, and sad. Agent: Andrea Montejo, Indent Literary Agency. (July)