Fate, by Jorge Consiglio (translated by Carolina Orloff and Fionn Petch) is the first of Charco Press’s 2020 publications. Set in Argentina, it features a disparate cast of characters. They each weave in and out of their often mundane day to day experiences without truly noticing how others are thinking or feeling. The author is exploring within the story how people exist – that they can only view the world through their personal lens. Concerns affecting self override empathy. Written in a fragmentary style, the character studies offer intimate details yet the language used has a detached feel. Settings are largely irrelevant except as conduits for a character’s flexuous thinking.
The book opens with a note from the author explaining how the apparent randomness of fate has such a significant impact on the course a life will take.
“When tragedy strikes, there is always someone who is spared by some tiny detail. As a result, triviality takes on monumental dimensions.”
“I imagined […] the characters would find themselves in a state of solitude, would be defined by it – yet would also fight tirelessly to make that modest leap of exceptionality and intensity.”
The first character introduced is Amer, a taxidermist specialising in museum work. His health has been adversely affected by his smoking habit so he joins a therapy group in an attempt to quit. There he meets a younger woman, Clara, who is training for a change of career. They start dating, although Amer appears to want more from Clara than she is willing to give.
As Amer and Clara are coming together, another relationship is crumbling. Karl is a German musician who left his home country and daughter to move to Buenos Aires and be with Marina, a scientific researcher. The couple now have a young son, Simón. Marina starts an affair with a colleague in an attempt to push her ‘paltry and predictable’ life into a forward trajectory.
Alternate short chapters offer snapshots of events from the points of view of Amer, Karl and Marina. They go about their days – at home and as they move through the city. They encounter others but remain engrossed in what is happening to themselves. They look to loved ones for affirmation and feel let down if this is not forthcoming, unaware that they too are failing in this respect.
“What he’d just felt – the pleasure of the sfogliatella – had faded. It had found no echo in the only person who could confirm the value of his experience.”
Karl buys Marina a birthday present and is dismayed when it is not valued as expected. He is unaware of how his son regards him, feeling anger when food cooked for the boy is not appreciated.
Marina pushes through any despondency she feels with focused determination. When she finds she cannot control every factor of the changes she orchestrates this is accepted as yet another new starting point from which decisions must be made and then dealt with.
Amer is pleased when an inheritance is finally processed but then discovers he is not sure how best to control and enjoy it. Clara shows only transient interest in plans he shares, unwilling to fit herself into the role he has unilaterally assigned her.
The writing captures how thoughts fluctuate and change direction with many threads forgotten as others take precedence. Plans change as individuals react to the unexpected actions of others. This is shown to be just one factor in the inability to control one’s future position.
By setting the story in the everyday, readers will recognise the unpredictable aspects that drive the direction life takes. It is a salutary reminder of any individual’s lasting significance.
The perfectly formed structure offers a story told in taut yet attentive prose that resonates with poignancy without demanding sympathy. The characters’ flaws add to their authenticity. It is a thought provoking and gratifying read.
Fate is published by Charco Press.