The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories - Horacio Quiroga, Margaret Sayers Peden, Ed Lindlof, Jean Franco

For my full review, please visit Casual Debris.

 

Horacio Quiroga's fiction is tame compared to his tragic life. His father dies from an accidental gunshot wound returning from a hunting trip. As a young man teaching his best friend how to use a gun in preparation for a duel he accidentally kills him. His first wife commits suicide with arsenic and his second simply runs away from their remote country home. He also uses arsenic to end his own life, after which both of his children, on separate occasions, commit suicide as well.

 

In this collection of Quiroga's stories we receive an introduction to his writing that spans his career. There are obvious similarities across the twenty-something years, but the latter works are generally more skillfully written, though some of the ideas in the earlier ones are more interesting. Many of the stories are simply flat, relying on shock endings ("The Feather Pillow"), some are stuffed with filler ("A Slap in the Face"), while some stories with interesting ideas are unfortunately not well rendered ("The Pursued").

 

The only truly satisfying story in the collection is "Anaconda," a novelette about a jungle serpent community threatened by the presence of a human research facility. Not only is the idea unique, it is well written, as Quiroga replaces his usual choppy prose with smoother, even writing, & characters (despite being snakes) that are more than caricatures & rendered with some fine light humour. "The Incense Tree Roof" almost manages this as well, but a strong idea and an interesting character are cast aside by an ending that is more deserving of his earlier stories. What is interesting about this piece is that Quiroga does well in delineating the civil sevant protagonist, since his stories often resort to employing partially-formed characters.

 

According to the blurbs at the back, Quiroga has been compared to Poe and Kipling, a statement I find rather surprising. He does not have Poe's grasp of plot and setting, nor the clever ideas, and he certainly cannot create characters as adeptly as Kipling. Likely these blurbs helped to sell a few copies of the book, which is unfortunate since raising readers' expectations and delivering something sub-par will surely set readers up for disappointment.