Collectors by Daniel Alarcón, 2013
The magic trick:
Broad, novel-esque scope in a short story
I have praised Alice Munro on this magic tricks blog for the same trick: the short story as a novel. I’m thinking especially of her story, “The View From Castle Rock,” and the wonders of character description and development she managed.
In “Collectors,” Alarcon is able to tell two entire life stories in just one medium-length story. I’d point to two specific strengths. One, he does an excellent job of selecting which life anecdotes to highlight. Each glimpse of their lives is vital. Each little nugget of biography builds toward a bigger picture. The second strength is a fearlessness in plotting the story. So often these days (these days being the last 100 years or so of literature, as far as I can tell), the artsy, classy short story remains allergic to plot points. Not “Collectors.” Tons of stuff happens in this story. Tons! Crazy stuff, too. It is easier to develop characters and create a larger scope in a story when lots of stuff happens to change those characters.
However you assess the how, there’s no denying the result: the story delivers a novel-sized emotional punch. And that’s quite a trick on Alarcón’s part.
The soldiers found the package, and to protect his brother Rogelio said nothing about its origins. He played dumb, which wasn’t difficult. Everyone—from the soldiers who conducted the search, to the policemen who came to arrest him, to his ferocious interrogators, to the lawyer charged with defending him—saw Rogelio as he assumed they would: as a clueless, ignorant young man from the provinces. All these years, and nothing had changed: he was still invisible.