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Interfictions Reviews – "When It Rains, You'd Better Get Out of Ulga"

April 27th, 2007

“When It Rains, You’d Better Get Out of Ulga”
Adrián Ferrero
translated from the Spanish by Edo Mor

At some point in the early history of the Interfictions anthology, apparently, it came down to Adrián Ferrero or me. Though it eventually turned out that there was room in the anthology for both of us, for a moment, at least, the editors were forced to debate whether we both were necessary. I can understand that, I think. These are both stories about place, about the magical nature of place. They also both begin with several paragraphs of abstract ruminations that make you go “Get to the story already!”

From there, though, for me at least, the parallels diverge. I’m not sure I would even have recognized “When It Rains” as magic realism, had Adrián Ferrero’s name and language of choice not given away a hint as to his origins. When I think of García Marquez and Allende (the magic realists invoked in the Afterword with reference to Ferrero), I think foremost of character. Ferrero’s characters to me are mostly vessels for his prose. His story feels…blurry to me. Atmospheric. Ostensibly, it’s about a prophecy of flood, a retelling of the deeds of Noah in the days before the rain. But there’s no real chronology to follow, no plot, just more of a mood, a series of expressionistic studies of the emotional and prophetic significance of water. My writing messes with narrative structure a bit, but overall it’s much more conventional and straightforward in its conveyance of events and themes. And much sillier. That in mind, I can see how the editors might have chosen him over me. Heck, I might have done so myself. He’s the one, of the two of us, who’s pushing the edge, challenging convention. I guess I’m just glad they didn’t have to choose.

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  • Jeff Howell says:

    Interesting comments. I’m glad they didn’t have to choose.

    There’s a question forming in my mind, a knee-jerk reaction, and I want to phrase it right so it doesn’t sound rude. Since I haven’t read the story in question, I’ll try to keep this general. I look forward to reading this story and seeing what makes it tick. I admit I’m a big fan of plot, so ‘atmospheric’ stories without an obvious structure are difficult for me. I’m wondering if you have an examples or tips for making sure experimental writing is not just an excuse for a story that’s missing elements. It might just be ‘good writing is what it is’ and you know it when you see it. I’m wondering if it’s the quality of the prose that you find most enjoyable, or the use of setting which so often in other stories is obscured in the background or missing completely.

    To somewhat answer my own question, given the choice I’d rather have the field of what’s ‘publishable’ be wide and inclusive. So I’m looking forward to picking up this anthology and somewhat stretching my conventional boundaries.

    • Jeff Howell says:

      (On further thought I’ll understand if you feel this has already been addressed in the review, about the mood, or in your previous posts about what is magical realism. I recall you mentioned the feeling of awe in those essays. I suppose that’s difficult to get across or keep repeating to some that might not get it like me).

      • mjd says:

        Your question does not sound rude at all. As a matter of fact, I’d wager if I had you writing these reviews for me I would have gotten myself into a lot less trouble!

        I have to admit plot is not my favorite thing in the world, or I wouldn’t love Borges so much. I’d probably have to say theme is my favorite, followed closely by quailty of prose, imagery and character. But I do believe that any element of story, done well enough, can take the place of any number of others. The problem with most attempts at experimentation in this vein is that their strong suit just isn’t strong enough to eclipse the weakness of their weak suits. Hence my somewhat non-plussedness with stories like “— House” and “Post Hoc”. With respect to “When It Rains”, I probably would have enjoyed it more had there been a bit more attention to character and structure. I do think, though, that in this case, the quality of the atmospheric imagery actually is enough to carry me through. Also, because I’m reading this story in the Interfictions anthology, part of whose purpose is to hold up the edgy and experimental, I’m giving those elements a lot more attention (and leeway) than I would were I to read them in a straight-up genre venue like F&SF.

        Regarding your other question, though, about what it takes to make the experimental stuff succeed or fail…I suspect that is largely a personal preference thing. One factor is just how surprised I am by it, how distinctive it is, how new–or at least, new to me. I mean, consider the fairytale retelling. The first twelve of those I read, I probably thought were pretty damn clever. Now that I’ve read a hundred of them, I could care less.

        Not that there isn’t a line to be drawn somewhere between experimental and pointless. It goes back to our thread about inanimate narrators. That story from the POV of the goldfish–I hated that. I found it a complete waste of my time. It wasn’t something I’d seen before, but it wasn’t something I needed to see. “Hidey Ho! I am a piece of toast. I have nooks and crannies. When butter is spread on me, it gets soaked in. It tickles, though in some ways I feel as if I am being violated.” Hmm. Maybe that’s not such a good example. That has an attempt at comedy going for it, at least.

        I called Matt Cheney’s story “wierd for the sake of wierd”. Maybe that was a mistake. Maybe I should have said “wierd for the sake of wierd AND pretty. If it had been just wierd, it would have been no different from the goldfish.

        Does this make sense?

        • jeffhowell says:

          Yes, much sense was made. Thanks for the response. Your additional thoughts are very helpful. I got a big laugh from your Toast POV. Perhaps at the end you could do a kind of concluding round-up; the highs and lows, compare and constrast. It was very helpful reading that in this response.

          Maybe I’ll post some reviews next week when I get the anthology. Thanks for helping get me excited about having something new and different to read. Hope you have a nice weekend!

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