Zambra’s Camilo


Just read Alejandro Zambra’s “Camilo” in The New Yorker.

Wonderful story.  In some ways it doesn’t seem to have much of a narrative structure; it’s episodic, and reads like a compressed memoir.  You’d think that would rob the story of its urgency, but the voice is so strong, and the writing so compact and honest, that it feels perfect.  The story doesn’t feel compressed in the way that a Saunders story feels compressed — you don’t feel as if you’re hurtling down a cliff with Zambra — but it’s amazing how much emotional range he builds in the narrator’s and Camilo’s character in such a short story, without any distinctive plot thread to pull it all together.

I’ve never read anything else from Zambra before.  Found out that he’s written three novels, all of them very very short (two under a hundred pages).  It makes sense.  It makes me wonder how long “Camilo” was when he finished the first draft, how long his novels were, before he started editing them.   Does he imagine the story so compact, or is it a great effort to strip away everything that isn’t needed?

About the author

Tom Howard

Tom Howard is the author of Fierce Pretty Things (Indiana University Press, 2019).

He received his MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Fierce Pretty Things won the 2018 Blue Light Books Fiction Prize, and his individual stories have won the Ninth Letter Literary Award in Fiction, the Indiana Review Fiction Prize, the Robert and Adele Schiff Award for Fiction, the Carve Magazine Prose & Poetry Contest, the Tobias Wolff Award in Fiction, the Innovative Short Fiction Prize, the Willow Springs Ficiton Prize, the Rash Award in Fiction, and the Robert J. DeMott Award for Short Prose.

He lives with his wife in Arlington, Virginia.

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