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A Certain Lucas

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 11)

ph_0111207073-Cortazar.jpg Julio Cortázar Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Many literary critics writing in English have suggested that the current boom in Latin American fiction was initiated by the publication in English translation of Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch (1966; published in Spanish as Rayuela, 1963). Even though Carlos Fuentes’ The Death of Artemio Cruz and many of the publications in English of Jorge Luis Borges appeared earlier, it was Cortázar, who died in Paris in February, 1984, who first brought the revolution in Latin American fiction to a wider public.

Indeed, until the extraordinary success of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, published in English in 1970, Cortázar was probably the Latin American writer most familiar to English-speaking audiences. That public was probably more familiar with his work than they realized: The popular Michelangelo Antonioni film Blow-Up (1966) was based on a Cortázar short story first published in the collection Final de juego (1956; End of the Game and Other Stories, 1963). The subsequent reappearance of that volume in a Collier paperback under the title Blow-Up and Other Stories (1967) is evidence of the success of the film and is one of the principal reasons that Cortázar became a writer whose books were sold at the corner newsstand along with detective novels and the Gothic romances.

Most of Cortázar’s work has been in the genre of short story. Even his “novels,” so designated primarily because of their length rather than because of their form, have a strange tendency to look like collections of stories unified by some motif or central character. The short stories of Cortázar that are fairly traditional in form, if not in content—such as those published in English in the collections End of the Game and Other Stories and All Fires the Fire (1973)—are more accessible to a general reading audience than are the novels, which tend to be so abstruse that they discourage any but the most avid readers of intellectualized games of fiction.

Because A Certain Lucas (published in Spain in 1979 as Un tal Lucas) is a collection of short observations on reality, experience, life, and death, and because Lucas, the character whose observations they are, is an Argentine writer living in Paris (as was Cortázar), several reviewers of the novel have suggested that Cortázar intended it to serve as an autobiographical farewell to his readers and fans.

The novel does narrate what seem to be the final observations of the fictional Lucas; whether this Lucas is a disguise for Cortázar is another question, one that is perhaps outside the province of literary criticism. The concern in this fictional world is the fictional character, and his relationship to the creator out there in the historical world is dubious at most. In fact, the dichotomy of fiction and reality, always a perplexing question for critics and reviewers of fiction, is a consideration that enters frequently into the stories and novels of Cortázar. One of his best, and shortest, stories from End of the Game and Other Stories, “Continuity of Parks,” portrays the reader of a novel the fictional reality of which duplicates exactly the “historical” reality of the reader to the point where the assassin of the fictional reader lurking behind his chair is one with the assassin who stalks the reader of the novel.

In many of his fictional works, Cortázar suggests the complications inherent in the curious process of experiencing the world of art, both as creator and as audience. In “Ways of Being Held Prisoner,” one of nineteen short philosophical pieces which form the middle section of A Certain Lucas, Cortázar repeats the tour de force of “Continuity of Parks.” In this piece, he examines the intertwining of fictional and historical reality that occurs as the reader experiences a narrative. In twentieth century Latin American fiction, only Borges has approached Cortázar in the examination of the complexities of the relationship of historical...

(The entire section is 1,842 words.)