Inés Arredondo delves into the dark side of gendered desire. This masterful collection of short stories depicts a world in which love and destruction seem interchangeable. Here women fall pray to the desire for younger boys while powerful, decrepit men roam fields and parties alike seeking to devour the flesh of young girls
Inés Arredondo, Underground River and Other Stories, Trans. by Cynthia Steele, University of Nebraska Press, 1996.
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Inés Arredondo (1928–1989) published just three slim volumes of stories over twenty-three years, yet her reputation as a great writer, “a necessary writer,” is firmly established in Mexico. Her works dwell on obsessions: erotic love, evil, purity, perversion, prostitution, tragic separation, and death. Most of her characters are involved in ill-fated searches for the Absolute through both excessively passionate and sadomasochistic relationships. Inevitably, the perfect, pure dyad of two youthful lovers is interrupted or corrupted through the interference of a third party (a rival lover or a child), aging, death, or public morality.
Set at the beginning of the twentieth century in the tropical northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa, the stories collected in Underground River and Other Stories focus on female subjectivity. Arredondo’s adult male characters are often predators, depraved collectors of adolescent virgins, like the plantation owners in “The Nocturnal Butterflies” and “Shadows in the Shadows” and the dying uncle in “The Shunammite,” who is kept alive by incestuous lust. Since the young female protagonists rarely have fathers to protect them, the only thing standing between them and these lechers are older women. Perversely, these older women act as accomplices–along with the extended family and the Roman Catholic Church–in the sordid age-old traffic in women.
Underground River and Other Stories is the first appearance of Arredondo’s stories in English
Ines Arredondo only published three collections of stories during her lifetime, and Underground River and Other Stories is the first to appear in English. Set mostly in northwestern Mexico, the stories here delineate a world of passion, madness, scandal, and death. A niece marries her dying uncle, only to have him recover as a result. A woman shares her lover with her elderly husband. An element of magic clings to these tales of adultery, incest, and sexual obsession, and that magic lies as much in the author's fine prose and eye for detail as in the twists of fate she describes.
Inés Arredondo (Culiacán, 1928-Mexico City 1989) is almost a secret in Mexican letters. Like her most famous contemporary Juan Rulfo or the lesser known but equally gifted Josefina Vicens, Arredondo published few books in her lifetime. In Underground River and Other Stories, translated into English by Cynthia Steele for University of Nebraska Press in 1996, Arredondo delves into the dark side of gendered desire. This masterful collection of short stories depicts a world in which love and destruction seem interchangeable. Here women fall pray to the desire for younger boys while powerful, decrepit men roam fields and parties alike seeking to devour the flesh of young girls. Perhaps Arredondo was not only portraying the worlds she closely observed in both her native Culiacán in northern Mexico and the capital city where she died; perhaps she was looking into the future, and writing about our time. - Cristina Rivera Garza https://www.publishersweekly.com/
Reading Arredondo is not unlike watching certain Bu?uel movies: women who are both passive and powerful dominate stories that are charged with madness and (generally unnatural) eroticism. Arredondo's style and her subjects are subtle and rather rarefied. In the half dozen or so longer pieces among the 12 here, readers lose themselves in that world, and its oddness comes as a delightful frisson. In shorter pieces (some are just a couple of paragraphs), the same style and subject can seem merely stiff and pretentious. The five longest pieces are truly outstanding. Both "The Shunammite," about a young woman forced to marry an ancient, wealthy uncle in extremis only to have lust pull him back from the grave, and "The Mirrors," about a girl's tragic parentage, reflect cruel interweavings of destiny and character. They are eclipsed by three stories set in rich, enervated households ruled by perversion ("The Nocturnal Butterflies," "Shadow in the Shadows") or, as in the title story, by madness. "Underground River" is not really a story but more of a plea from the narrator to her nephew, begging him never to visit or think of her and telling how she has become the gatekeeper of the family's insanity. "I have led a solitary life for many years, a woman alone in this immense house, a cruel and exquisite life," she explains to him in a prologue that might characterize many of Arredondo's characters and stories. "I have a destiny but it isn't mine. I have to live my life according to other people's destinies." - Publishers Weekly
Underground River and Other Stories. A collection of 12 abrasive and confrontational tales selected from the small oeuvre (three volumes containing 30 stories) of a Mexican writer (1928-89) renowned for her forthright depictions of women's victimization by men and thwarted pursuit of erotic liberation and romantic happiness. Men are too often one-dimensional monsters (e.g., in the creepy ``The Shunammite'') in these accusatory, overheated fictions, several of which (such as ``The Mirrors'' and ``Shadow in the Shadows'') exfoliate from simple conflict into garish melodrama. Arredondo's strident, passionate voice takes some getting used to, but its rhythms echo, and linger perversely in the memory. - Kirkus Reviews
Ines Arredondo's collection of short fiction, UNDERGROUND RIVER AND OTHER STORIES, is nothing short of spellbinding. Mostly set in a small town in northwestern Mexico at the beginning of this century, it provides a stunning expression of the erotic perversity found in seemingly ordinary lives: in each story, hovering just below the placid surface of daily existence, lurks a tragicomic opera of battling desires. Arredondo (1928-89) uses sharp prose to create a paradoxically dreamlike reality; the details in her work are so vividly rendered that they make scandal, madness and horror seem fascinating. In ''The Shunammite,'' a young woman reluctantly agrees to her uncle's deathbed wish that they marry, only to find that her transgression is his cure. In ''Mariana,'' a young couple's erotic obsession leads one to insanity, the other to death, while their neighbors avidly track their downfall. The narrator of ''The Nocturnal Butterflies,'' who works as a butler, describes how his relationship with his employer is forever altered when he procures for him the sexual services of an unusual adolescent girl. And the narrator of ''Shadow in the Shadows'' tells of her passion for a handsome young man, a passion so strong that she is willing to share her lover with her aging husband. Arredondo, although she published only three small volumes of stories during her lifetime, is one of modern Mexico's most highly regarded writers. Cynthia Steele's able translation, the first appearance of Arredondo's work in English, should secure a new audience for her powerful and distinctive voice. - JENNY MCPHEE http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/23/bib/970323.rv120502.html
I’ve been in central and South American (not physically but with my reading choices) for about six weeks now and I am going to continue the theme for quite a bit longer, with a wonderful pile of originally written in Spanish titles, all by women writers, sitting awaiting my attention.
When I read the collection of Mexican short stories, “Sun, Stone, and Shadows” (edited by Jorge F. Hernández) I mentioned the Inés Arredondo short story “The Shunammite” (translated by Alberto Manguel) and given the impact her story had in eleven pages, I wanted to hunt down more of her work. Inés Arredondo (1928-1989) published only three line volumes of stories and at present the availability of her work in English is minimal. The University of Nebraska Press edition of “Underground River and Other Stories” that I managed to source was published in 1996.
The collection opens with an “Introduction” by the translator, Cynthia Steele, and if you don’t want to have the themes revealed, some of the plotlines revealed, I would suggest you skip this and revisit it after you have enjoyed the stories. Here Steele tells us;
Arredondo resisted being called a woman writer, since she believed that this label relegated women artists to a ghetto, to a second-class status with critics and readers. “I don’t want to be the best woman writer in Mexico,” she said in an interview, “I want to be one of the best Mexican writers.” At the same time, her short stories focus obsessively on female subjectivity (along with other marginal beings, adolescents of both genders and gay men) within the context of a perverse Gothic “family romance” set in provincial Sinaloa at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Revolution has not yet happened, or else it has passed through without disturbing centuries-old power relations.
The “Introduction” is followed by a “Foreword” by Elena Poniatowska;
She was troubled by the problems of purity, pride, mercy, and love. Her central themes are reflected in her characters’ solitude, in the importance that she confers on the couple, and in her dissection of the human souls; these are what make her works unique.
This collection opens with the same story that appears in “Sun, Stone, and Shadows”, “The Shunammite” (this translated by Cynthia Steele, although I must admit I thought I was re-reading the story I had already read a few months ago, so the versions must be very similar indeed). A check of the opening lines shows:
“The summer had been a fiery furnace. The last summer of my youth.” (Alberto Manguel translation).
“The was a blistering summer. The last of my youth.” (Cynthia Steele translation).
Having said that, on a second reading the themes are much more poignant, the lechery and the biting tale of patriarchal society and the role of single women in such is captured perfectly, no wonder Poniatowska says “The Shunammite” is one of the most celebrated short stories in Mexican literature. I think this is the second reading, not the different translation, however I did seem to enjoy the story more the second time around.
What keeps him going is lust…
The story “Marianna” tells the tale of a young girl in school who, during class, draws clumsily as though a pre-schooler. As she gets older she comes to school with make-up, and of course is punished, becomes sexually active and is the centre of all of the fellow school girl’s rumours. Becoming defiant to her family, her teachers and their superiors, this only leads to ruin. There are no happy endings for these fallen women in Arredondo’s stories.
The more stories we read the more we learn of humbled people, those who do not understand their dire situations, there are no tidy, neat endings, awkwardness prevails. In “The Sign” we have a person who is drawn to visit a church and is then asked by the Sexton if he can kiss his feet, or the two paragraph story “New Year’s Eve” where rawness, loneliness and compassion are profoundly portrayed, depth you can sometimes not find in works that run to 100’s of pages.
In Cynthia Steele’s “Introduction” she says “her opening are so memorable” and every single story sucks you in within a mere few sentences, a few examples:
I have led a solitary life for many years, a woman alone in this immense house, a cruel and exquisite life. That’s the story I want to tell: about the cruelty and exquisiteness of a rural life.
When I saw him brush her cheek with the whip, I knew what I had to do.
Great lovers don’t have children.
“Nocturnal Butterflies” is a story of procuring virgins for the master of the house to sleep with, “five hundred pesos in gold for your virginity. One night for two hours.” Or the story “The Mirrors” where we have a mother relaying the tale of her son’s exploits with sisters, one of whom is mentally impaired, she justifies her behaviour.
A collection full of predators, sexually and morally, these stories are a wonderful representation of Central American female writing. Dark, disturbing, but at the same time revelatory the sense of time, country, mores and the plight of the defenceless or innocent, in their pursuit of happiness is served up to you raw. As one of Arrendondo’s protagonists says;
I have a destiny, but it isn’t mine. I have to live my life according to other people’s destinies.
And to finish the collection we have “Shadow in the Shadows”; our protagonist opens up to us “When I turned fifteen Ermilo Parades was forty-seven.” A rich man Ermilo Parades tells us of the ppower of money “It can buy other people’s humiliation”. An outstanding story to conclude a wonderful collection. - messybooker.wordpress.com/2016/08/04/underground-river-and-other-stories-ines-arredondo-translated-by-cynthia-steele/