Although Garcia Marquez wrote "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World'' several years before it and other short stories were published in English in 1972, most readers of English at that time knew only of his most famous work, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Many early reviewers were somewhat disappointed in the sparse, short stories. They contained neither the grand historic sweep of One Hundred Years nor the complex character development that wins reader affection through increased familiarity. John Sturrock in the New York Times Book Review considered the stories "make-weights," "the ambitious but as yet uncertain and overabstract tales of a writer too young to recognize that even the most imaginative fiction needs to be filled with things as well as strange thoughts." Some reviewers expressed distaste for the Garcia Marquez's style. John Leonard in the New York Times called them "rather typical examples of postwar existentialist futzing around." Leonard went on to say that ''humor is not permitted in such fiction, nor rounded characters, society, politics, history."
Not all reviewers shared these opinions. Some found much to admire in Garcia Marquez's short stories, including not only his unique style and his social agenda but also his insistence that fantastic things are real. Alfred Kazin, in the New York Times Book Review, described the pressures of literary achievement and social responsibility that keep Garcia Marquez on the artistic side of propaganda. Kazin saw "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World'' as a manifestation of the author's vision of the natural world as a place of both myth and reality. Other critics found humor in the story, pointing out the naming of Esteban as an especially wry observation on human nature.
Garcia Marquez has amassed a considerable reputation since translations of his work first appeared. With the 1982 Nobel Prize in literature to his credit, he has gained increased critical respect as well. "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World'' is no longer dismissed as "A Story for Children''—as some subtitles refer to the story—though it certainly works on a literal level as a children's story. More recently, critics have begun to examine the larger implications of particular aspects of the story, including the naming of Esteban, the changes he brings to the village, and the character of the villagers themselves.
In later criticism, the focus has been on Garcia Marquez's particular narrative techniques rather than the plot of the story itself. Kathleen McNerney discussed Garcia Marquez's characteristically shifting point of view in Understanding Garcia Marquez. Often within the same paragraph, McNerney purported, readers receive not only the villagers's point of view, but they also see Esteban through the eyes of a hostess and as Esteban sees himself, abashed and ashamed in the tiny homes of his neighbors. In Gabriel Garcia Marquez , Raymond Williams examined the role of the reader in the story. Not only can readers find humor in their assumed superiority...
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