Peter Carey Short Fiction Analysis
Peter Carey’s short stories are closer to fantasy and science fiction than his novels, which are more aptly categorized as historical or Magical Realist. The only novel by Carey that is close to the vision of the short stories is The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (1994). In the stories, plot and psychologically well-rounded characterization are given less priority than atmosphere and audacity of conception. They are set in surreal, strange environments. Many of the stories take place in alternate histories where people are ruled by nondemocratic governments. These settings assist Carey in establishing an atmosphere of distortion and exaggeration where everything is at risk and no horror is inconceivable. The reader is put into a suspenseful mood, kept on edge. “Room No. 5 (Escribo)” is typical in this regard. This story was inspired by Carey’s visit to Spain in the early 1970’s, during the last years of the authoritarian government there. The story hauntingly imagines the conditions of life in a society filled with fear, degradation, and uncertainty. Everyone is waiting for the aged dictator Timoshenko to die. The narrator and his girlfriend, whom he has met on his travels, tentatively explore their relationship in the grimy atmospheric squalor of a country in which they are strangers. This sense of alienation and dislocation, often laced with humor, is characteristic of Carey’s early stories. Though nothing dramatic happens in “Room No. 5...
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