(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The novel begins on the twenty-fourth of December in Paris. As Juan spends Christmas Eve alone in a gloomy restaurant, he examines the relationship between thought, word, and action and he questions the value of reasoning itself. The deceiving nature of memory is then explored in passages which change swiftly and without warning from a first-to a second-and third-person narrator. Glimpses of specific details of what is going to happen, or has already happened, are introduced mostly through Juan’s thoughts. In the midst of a labyrinthine beginning, which will set the tone of the text, some explanation is provided as to what constitutes the city and the paredros, key elements in the book.

For a great part of the novel, the friends are scattered in different European cities. In London, Marrast, Nicole, Calac, and Polanco amuse themselves at the expense of the British and their sense of decorum. Yet if a museum and the streets of London offer the possibilities of freedom and games, inside their room of the Gresham Hotel Marrast and Nicole live their last days together. Nicole is in love with Juan, and Marrast becomes the frustrated witness of her melancholy. Their exasperating state of mind is portrayed carefully by the use of dialogue, inner reflections, or letters.

At the same time, Juan is translating for an international conference in Vienna, accompanied by Tell. Tell, the crazy Dane, as Juan calls her, makes him forget the treachery of language, and her sense of humor relieves him from the pain of his unrequited love for Hélène. In their pursuit of play, they decide to follow the steps of Frau Marta—a gray, repulsive old lady—whom they have watched develop a bizarre friendship with a young English female tourist. Tell and Juan couple their wish of adventure with the historical background of a legend and become detectives in a modern story of vampirism.

In Paris, the attention is focused on Hélène, an...

(The entire section is 797 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Unlike Oliveira in Hopscotch, who plays a game in order to save himself from reality, the characters in 62: A Model Kit are played like pawns on a chessboard. The novel is a juxtaposition of the protagonist’s experiences in two different but related territories called the Zone and the City. The former is a meeting place for the group of characters while the City has no geographic limitation, only high sidewalks and a hotel with labyrinthine rooms.

The novel’s protagonist is actually a group of characters. These characters are deliberately sketchy. Echoes of one another, they perceive a subliminal level of reality and intuit associations that reveal what life is about. The associations, in constant, dreamlike metamorphosis, justify the novel’s chronological order of episodes and the utilization of private symbols. The opening scene gives a clear example of how events reverberating in the mind of a character initiate a chain of associations.

Juan, an Argentine interpreter living in Paris, is seated in the Polidor restaurant facing a wall of mirrors when he overhears a customer asking for château saignant, a rare steak. These words remind Juan of a book he just bought by Michel Butor in which he found a description of Niagara Falls by another Frenchman, François René de Chateaubriand, the author of Atala (1801; English translation, 1802). They also remind him of a related phrase, château sanglant, the “bloody castle.” Free associating from this last phrase, other images occur to him: Frau Marta, Transylvania, and the word “Sylvaner,” the name of the wine he has just ordered. Word associations open up onto mysteriously disturbing worlds. This particular association exposes the reader to the novel’s Gothic episodes about Vienna and the Baslisken Haus, with its legends of the Blood Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who bled and tortured girls in her castle and bathed in their blood. More associations occur to Juan and are borne out in the novel’s plot, in which desire without love, ill-fated relationships among characters, and vampirism all play a part.

62: A Model Kit is a dialectic between the exploratory nature of language and experience, and the forces—the conscious mind and its manipulation of the narrative—that counter the liberation offered by this exploration.


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Alazraki, Jaime, and Ivar Ivask, eds. The Final Island: The Fiction of Julio Cortázar. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978. Perhaps the finest collection of criticism on Cortázar, a representative sampling of his best critics covering all the important aspects of his fictional output.

Boldy, Steven. The Novels of Julio Cortázar. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1980. The introduction provides a helpful biographical sketch linked to the major developments in Cortázar’s writing. Boldy concentrates on four Cortázar novels: The Winners, Hopscotch, 62: A Model Kit, and A Manual for Manuel. Includes notes, bibliography, and index.

Guibert, Rita. Seven Voices: Seven Latin American Writers Talk to Rita Guibert. New York: Knopf, 1973. Includes an important interview with Cortázar, who discusses both his politics (his strenuous objection to U.S. interference in Latin America) and many of his fictional works.

Harss, Luis, and Barabara Dohmann. Into the Mainstream: Conversations with Latin-American Writers. New York: Harper and Row, 1967. Includes an English translation of an important interview in Spanish.

Hernandez del Castillo, Ana. Keats, Poe, and the Shaping of Cortázar’s Mythopoesis. Amsterdam: J. Benjamin, 1981. This is a part of the Purdue University Monographs in Romance Languages, volume 8. Cortázar praised this study for its rigor and insight.

Peavler, Terry L. Julio Cortázar. Boston: Twayne, 1990. Peavler begins with an overview of Cortázar’s life and career and his short stories of the fantastic, the mysterious, the psychological, and the realistic. Only one chapter is devoted exclusively to his novels. Includes chronology, notes, annotated bibliography, and index.

Stavans, Ilan. Julio Cortázar: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1996. See especially the chapters on the influence of Jorge Luis Borges on Cortázar’s fiction, his use of the fantastic, and his reliance on popular culture. Stavans also has a section on Cortázar’s role as writer and his interpretation of developments in Latin American literature. Includes chronology and bibliography.

Yovanovich, Gordana. Julio Cortázar’s Character Mosaic: Reading the Longer Fiction. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991. Three chapters focus on Cortázar’s four major novels and his fluctuating presentations of character as narrators, symbols, and other figures of language. Includes notes and bibliography.