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IN BRIEF

Fiction

July 11, 1993|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

PIANO STORIES by Felisberto Hernandez, translated by Luis Harss with an introduction by Italo Calvino. (Marsilio: $18; 258 pp.) Hernandez (1902-1964) was a professional pianist "who started out at the age of 15 accompanying silent movies." He was born in Uruguay, we learn in the translator's note, was married three times, had a passion for fat women, and, like Proust, "suffered a lifelong emotional dependence on his mother." Unlike Proust, Hernandez loses the battle with memory, it eludes him, and he gives up rather dramatically mid-story in "Just Before Falling Asleep." "Something unexpected has happened," he interferes. "Not only am I unable to write, but it's a great effort for me to live in the present, to live forward. . . . In the end I lost my desire to write. And, as it happens, this desire was my last tie to the present." Once Hernandez abandons that tie to the present--yeeeha! It's a bumpy, imaginative, exciting ride. Objects that before had been tools for memory become characters in their own right, "inhabitants" of a room instead of objects. It's as if Proust's madeleines got up from the brink of the teacup and dove in. In "The Balcony," a pianist is trapped in the house of an old man and his writer-daughter, and forced to listen to her poems. His visit makes the balcony outside her room jealous and it commits suicide. In "Except Julia," a man visits the house of his friend, who has set up an elaborate dark tunnel in which he positions women so that he can walk through and touch their faces. In so many of these stories strangely erotic images prey on the reader, even as you try, faithfully and pathetically, to follow the plot.

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