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My Documents

Alejandro Zambra, trans. from the Spanish by Megan McDowell. McSweeney’s, $15 trade paper (248p) ISBN 978-1-940450-52-0

The title story in Zambra’s (Ways of Going Home) story collection establishes a casual, conversational, self-aware tone: the narrator recalls not informing his parents when he becomes an altar boy, nor telling the priest that he hasn’t gone to confession. In the story, lying doesn’t catch up with this boy so much as isolates him, a common condition among Zambra protagonists, while his mother’s music—the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Chilean easy listening—plays in the background. “Camilo” traces the friendship between two boys, uncovering how their fathers’ friendship ended years before on a soccer field. Soccer is also central to “Thank You,” where Mexico City kidnappers spare the lives of two tourists in honor of Chilean-born Monterrey player Chupete Suazo. The kidnappers’ dialogue (an obscene rant followed by sports analysis) exemplifies Zambra’s humor, and the story’s ending reverberates with his melancholy. Cats play prominent roles in two tales, both about feckless caretakers: a divorced father adopts what he thinks is a male cat until it has kittens; a slacker’s four-month house-sitting stint for his cousin is complicated by a runaway cat. Funny, sad, sometimes rambling and sometimes exact, Zambra’s stories convey with striking honesty what it’s like to be Chilean today: adrift and confused, uncertain of institutions, relationships, or the future. (Feb.)