A prize of £1,000 will be awarded for an unpublished short story of between 2,000 and 5,000 words.Usually, I wouldn't even read any further, but this time I was reminded of Last Evenings on Earth, a collection of Roberto Bolaño's wonderful stories. Is it the first, Sensini, in which the narrator corresponds with a reclusive author with whom he shared a short story prize? My copy is back in the library so I can't check. Anyway, in either that story or the next the narrator tells of their correspondence, how they prompt each to enter short story competitions, sometimes entering the same story in separate competitions, merely changing the title. Nobody notices even if they win. It's a beguiling tale. Yet I was also frustrated with the silence about the stories themselves. Both authors seem to write them with matter-of-fact ease. What are the stories about? Did the writers care about them or consider them confections for a gullible audience? Of course these questions must be what makes it so beguiling. That and £1,000.
It probably isn't a coincidence that all Bolaño's stories, in this collection at least, are on an odd kind of cruise control, giving the impression of having being written in one go, without revision or reflection, never lingering over description, moving relentlessly forward, using initials as names perhaps to camouflage unadorned autobiography, and then stopping, as if a word count or deadline had been met. Still, for all the nagging sense of having been taken for a ride, it's no surprise the narrator won some prizes.
PS: The New Yorker has just published his story Álvaro Rousselot's Journey.