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  • Memory, Displacement, and Reintegration in Alberto Fuguet's "Santiago"
  • Jeremy L. Cass

Alberto Fuguet's characters struggle. Many face loneliness, boredom, and drug addiction; many find themselves in dysfunctional relationships or families; most express a palpable disenchantment with life in Santiago. Such experiences harmonize with the approaches that Fuguet and co-editor Sergio Gómez outline in the prologues to Cuentos con Walkman (1993) and the landmark McOndo (1996).1 Like the stories compiled in those anthologies, Fuguet's fiction challenges the epic weight of preexisting trends in the Spanish-American narrative in its depiction of private and individual realities ("Presentación" 13), in its playful approach to form, and in its recognition that identity formation and negotiation are intensely personal yet subject to what Humberto Medina calls "la cultural industrial" – for Fuguet, film, rock and pop music, and, in the critic's words, "el discurso juvenil" (262).

Fuguet and Gómez use the spirited introductory essays in both collections to cast a vision for breaking from established Latin American narrative convention, which for the purposes of their argument they reduce to magical realism and the overreaching influence of García Márquez, whom they irreverently christen "San Gabriel" ("Presentación" 14).2 The shift in focus has amounted to, according to Rebbecca Pittenger, a "renewed dedication to realism" which scrutinizes "the overlooked aspects of everyday life" in which depictions of "a rural, untouched, and miraculous reality, which once seemed so timeless, [represent] little more than a relic of the continent's literary and imaginary past" (n. pag.). It is therefore no surprise that Fuguet and Gómez emphasize that the pieces appearing in McOndo "No son frescos sociales ni sagas colectivas" ("Presentación" 13). Fuguet and Gómez clarify in the introduction to Cuentos con Walkman that "[El presente proyecto no] pretende ser el gran espejo de Chile ni abarcar todo un espectro social o moral" ("Urgentes" 10); "Lo que aquí se cuenta son historias vitales sobre vidas levemente [End Page 173] aburridas" ("Urgentes" 10). They advocate literary pursuit that resists sweeping national narratives and instead privileges the everyday and the individual, a point they drive home through the vitales-levemente aburridas juxtaposition. The personal stories of mildly boring characters, they contend, are just as noteworthy as those of the master narratives that brought international prominence to Latin American fiction. Fuguet's early fiction, naturally, espouses what Jason Summers has called "the more individualistic voices of the McOndo generation" (72). Summers adds that the push for individualism goes hand in hand with what he characterizes as a "dark" outlook and a tendency towards "extreme" social criticism (72). Recent projects set aside much of the darker outlook and embrace instead a more sentimental approach.

Fuguet's second collection of short stories, Cortos (2004), draws from the same thematic well and embraces the plurality of form so typical of his work. In addition to standard third- and first-person narratives that rely heavily on fast-paced dialogues, Cortos interpolates film scripts, magazine articles, interviews, photographs, and even classified ads. Catalina Forttes-Zalaquett goes so far to allege that such diversity of form should challenge the cuento designation: "podrían ser proto-guiones, diarios de viaje, crónicas, entrevista[s], o capítulos de novela" ("Cortos" 139). Film emerges as both a thematic and stylistic touchstone in Cortos, not only because the stories are structured like visual montages, as the title suggests, but also because they read like film-narrative hybrids that blur the lines between the two genres (Medina 263). Despite the struggling characters depicted through such varying textual media, Cortos possesses an unmistakable happy-ending feel and as such stands in stark contrast to Fuguet's early fiction, case in point Mala onda (1991), his first novel, and Sobredosis (1991), his inaugural collection of short stories, both of which paint a grim picture of Chilean youth culture during the Pinochet regime and likewise align with the "dark" and "extreme" tendencies observed by Summers (72). On the contrary, in Cortos we find stories with clean and even hopeful resolutions in which characters overcome their circumstances, restore their relationships, and appear poised to move forward.3

One particular short story in...


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pp. 173-186
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