View Count: 128 |  Publish Date: February 02, 2013
'A Thousand Morons,' by Quim Monzó
A Thousand MoronsBy Quim Monzó; translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush(Open Letter; 111 pages; $12.95 paperback)
Quim Monzó might just be the best writer youve never heard of. One could say hes Catalans best-known writer - in fact, the publicity materials for Monzós books in the English-language markets routinely say so. But given our cultures scant attention to literature in translation, such titles, however well meant, only accentuate a writers obscurity.
His latest, A Thousand Morons, is one of the strongest short-story collections Ive read in years. Out of material too bleak perhaps for mainstream tastes, Monzó has crafted the funniest prose.
The book is composed of two sections: seven more-substantial stories followed by a dozen brief tales or vignettes. The first section is bookended by stories set in a home for the aged and told by a middle-aged narrator coming to terms with his parents decline. In The Coming of Spring, the narrator recalls: Having sick leave for father was the proof that he knew how to get the most out of life. He uttered those same words - sick leave - with the same respect that other people utter the name of the king, the author of the best history book ever written or the scientist who has discovered the most sought after vaccine. Ive been given sick leave, he would say proudly. ... To succeed in running one lot of sick leave into another was his main aim in life.
In Love Is Eternal, a man runs into a former lover. Having initiated their breakup years earlier after discovering how horrible it is to live the life of a couple, he ambivalently participates in loves rekindling. One morning after the woman leaves for work, he discovers from some medical paperwork on her desk that she has cancer. Lunch with a mutual friend confirms that she has less than a year to live.
So why doesnt she tell him? Weeks go by and still not a word on the subject. Meanwhile, he grows fonder of her, and the shortness of her life expectancy eases his fear of commitment. He proposes they move in together; she agrees. He proposes marriage; she accepts. The year goes by: However, not only doesnt she die but when she sees pregnant women or mothers with children in prams she takes my arm and looks tenderly into my eyes.
Monzós characters are often entangled in self-created webs of contradiction. Those with clear objectives fare worse, being either downright delusional or having cast their lots with misplaced confidence. In Saturday, for instance, an elderly woman goes through her photographs and cuts out the face of her husband, who is presumably unfaithful and has moved out. But she finds that this is not enough: One object after another brings to mind her husband, and her fury cannot rest. Following the logic of association to its bitter end, she eventually removes the floor tiling and scrapes the paint off the walls.
Elsewhere, a young prince comes upon a sleeping princess: Conscious of his role in the story, the prince kisses her lovingly. It doesnt work, so he goes further. And further. And further still. Monzó risks sheer tastelessness before changing direction, with delightful results.
Filled with unassuming philosophical humor and unsentimental compassion, these stories expert pacing and confident shifts in tone could provide a master class for aspiring writers.
As a translator himself - he has produced Catalan versions of authors ranging from Thomas Hardy to Truman Capote - Monzó must surely appreciate the suppleness of Peter Bushs work here. Bush gives us Monzós subtle complexity without any of the clunky moments that can deform translations of comic writing in particular.
Credit must also go to Open Letter (an imprint of the University of Rochester), whose devotion to literature in translation and unpredictable roster have quietly made it one of the most important small presses in the country.
Gregory Leon Miller is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. He teaches film, literature and writing at California State University Bakersfield. E-mail:

 book   ever   hes   leave   life   sick   writer   sick leave   Monzó 

Picture Keywords
 book   ever   hes   leave   life   sick   writer   sick leave   Monzó 
Time: 16:44  |  News Code: 108432  |  Site: San Francisco Chronicle
Collecting News by Parset Crawler
Know more about Parset crawler