(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Luisa Valenzuela has become the darling of feminist critics, making a place for herself as a female writer who has exposed and challenged the Hispanic sexist world, which has historically discriminated against women; typically she relates domestic sexual domination and abuse alongside political repression and torture. The fact that Valenzuela was highly influenced by the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan during her period of schooling in France has also provided critics with a ready-made set of critical terms with which to approach her fiction.

In many ways Valenzuela’s work is a conventional extension of the Magical Realism that characterized writers of the so-called Latin American boom, such as Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, and Gabriel García Márquez. Making using of folklore from South America, as well as modern anthropology and psychoanalysis, Valenzuela creates hallucinatory worlds of sadistic men and repressed and autistic women. However, Valenzuela is more a stylist than a political philosopher, focusing on how the story is told rather than what it says. It is in “the articulation between the narrated anecdote and the style of narration” that the secret of the text resides, says Valenzuela.

“I’m Your Horse in the Night”

“De noche soy tu caballo” (“I’m Your Horse in the Night”) opens mysteriously with the young female protagonist being awakened by her doorbell, concerned it might be some threatening “them.” However, it is an equally mysterious and unidentified “him” that she meets “face to face, at last.” He embraces her and pulls out “potential clues” that elude her, such as a bottle of liquor and a record. The song they listen to is “I’m Your Horse in the Night,” which she translates slowly to bind him into a spell, telling him he is the horse of the spirit who is riding her. He tells her, however, that she is always getting carried away with esoteric meanings, that she is his horse as a sexual creature only.

The phone wakes her up and a voice says that the man, Beto, has been found dead in the river, his body decomposed after six days in the water. When the police arrive, she says they will not find anything, for her only real possession was a dream and “they can’t deprive me of my dreams just like that.” The police want to know where the mysterious man is, but she will say only that he abandoned her. Insisting that, even if they torture her she will not tell them her dreams, she says, “The man simply vanished. I only run into him in my dreams, and they’re bad dreams that often become nightmares.”

The story is about the interrelationship between dream and reality in which the sexual encounter is oneiric while its aftermath is frightening real. “I’m Your Horse in the Night” sets up several typical Valenzuela dichotomies. Even as the horse is the nightmare horse of myth, it is a cultural sign of female submission. While the sexual union is romantic/erotic, it is also a primal animal encounter. Basically, this is a story about the objectification of woman’s desire for transcendence above the ordinary world of “mere facts.”

“Up Among the Eagles”

“Donde viven las águilas” (“Up Among the Eagles”) is one of...

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