Dan Sandman

24: The Cubs and Other Stories by Mario Vargas Llosa

In Books, Fiction, Short Stories on 10/06/2016 at 12:00 pm

The Cubs and Other Stories by Mario Vargas LlosaThese early short stories from the Nobel Prize winning author Mario Vargas Llosa mature as they go along. The first story, giving its title to the collection, proves — by refusing to employ quotation marks — that the basic rules for writing dialogue have evolved for a very good reason. But once the collection reaches the half-way mark; we are given several illuminating examples of well balanced, neatly presented, concise fiction of a very high standard.

Lad culture circa Peru in the 50s is at the centre of this book. The first few stories, when taken as a whole, can be seen as a sequenced study of male relationships: from childhood (The Cubs) running through to adolescence (The Leaders) and into old age (The Grandfather). Woman appear as objects of desire; whilst the family, and other focal points for a balanced education, are to be rebelled against. It can certainly be said that whilst the camaraderie of machismo culture is celebrated here, the violence that underpins a world without femininity is inevitably drawn towards tragic outcomes. This becomes particularly clear when the book’s subject matter turns towards the genre of the western (A Visitor / The Younger Brother); focuses on a swimming competition between two rival lovers (On Sunday); and brilliantly depicts a duel between two members of rival gangs (The Challenge).

The overall impression is of a writer learning the ropes, developing his craft by exploring semi-autobiographical material. By the time we reach the end of the collection, a mature voice begins to resound above the deconstructions of the earliest writings. What we begin to unveil is a Peru at the cusp of a new sort of rebellion, one inspired by American culture and led by the appearance of two new social groups, distinct yet similar: the faux-masculine teenager and the idealistic student, both looking to meet girls whilst talking about football over a few beers.

Still seen in pubs and bars around the world.

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