Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In an essay on aspects of the short story published in Cuba in 1962, Cortázar defined the short story as “a mysterious brother to poetry” in which fantasy is shown to rule supreme, as opposed to the false empirical realism created by the Western notion of logic and causality. This definition applies to “Axolotl” because the story shows how a fantastic reality bursts into the realm of the everyday. In this short story, as in many others, Cortázar first gains the reader’s confidence, putting readers at their ease by creating a normal setting and conventional characters in familiar situations. Soon, however, readers find themselves trapped by a strange, nightmarish turn of events that threatens and ultimately destroys the logical, routine reality described up to this point. Cortázar has also likened the short story to a photograph. Unlike novels and films, which provide abundant details and complete, well-rounded plots, the short story—like a photograph—limits its scope to a single frame, a fragment of reality that forces the reader to supply the missing pieces. One of Cortázar’s finest stories, “Axolotl” is elegantly written. It uses suspense well and explores the mysterious boundaries between the human and the animal kingdoms.