Barlen Pyamootoo – Center of Flacq
In Flacq, they rise early, and since they are pious and careful with money, they start the day with prayers to the gods, but finish with that futile prayer of numbers.
Barlen Pyamootoo's Center of Flacq (trans. Danielle McLimore) occupies a strange temporal space where the city, Flacq, seems to devolve and evolve before its citizens' eyes. What was a pasture becomes a church; fenced land becomes unfenced, uncultivated, barren. Things transform, shift, change, alter, become something they are not.
The sting of the story comes from its final sentence, where the narrator, who, prior to the conclusion, has concerned (him)self with explaining the curious transformations of the city, suddenly and quite clearly becomes pedagogical and emphatic, admonishing “Joe” (and the reader) that “you can never get your childhood back”. It's an interesting tack for the story to take, and serves to enhance the piece from an oddly told, though overall rather conventional, story, to something that carries with it a bit of a punch.
Pyamootoo builds a strange city throughout his story, one that relies on the associative memories of the reader to properly create a coherent sense of space, but for all that there is a certain strength of feeling to it. He expects a level of memory and expectation, and assumes a strong religious undertone from the reader. But! Happily, these expectations coalesce into the rather devastating ending, which cuts through the carefully manufactured paragraphs proceeding it.
The best way to think about this story is to imagine one of those carefully crafted period or geographic pieces which exist, if we are honest, as tourist pieces, or as apologies for certain geopolitical activity, and then to imagine what would happen if one of those pieces, ordinarily so insipid, suddenly gained meaning. Actually had something to say. It'd be rare, no? And yet, here we are. Pyamootoo has put a good deal of effort in recreating the dust of the streets and the call of the birds, but, really – who cares? Not him and not us, because the ending of the story provides us with the true substance of the piece, which is to say its heart, its message, and its importance.
I really rather enjoyed Pyamootoo's Center of Flacq. It ends exactly where it should and, happily, it doesn't outstay its welcome. As a story, it presents a clear mission and then, right where it “should” ramp up into cloying feel-goodery, Pyamootoo subverts our expectations and ends on a sharp barb. Based on Center of Flacq I remain curious as to his ability to sustain such a tone throughout a larger piece, and look forward to any opportunity to read his other works.
Center of Flacq by Barlen Pyamootoo is a short story from Words Without Borders' May 2012 edition, Writing From the Indian Ocean issue. All of the work reviewed is freely available online.
Words Without Borders review series:
---May 2011: Writing From Afghanistan
---January 2011: The Work Force
---October 2010: Beyond Borges: Argentina Now
---August 2010: Writing From Hungary
Index of short stories under review