The Gospel According To Mark by Jorge Luis Borges, 1970
The magic trick:
Expanding what could have been a simple sexual-transgressions story into a contemplation about sin and religion
We’ve got big ideas today in a short story. Big, big ideas. I guess that is true of almost every short story. Part of what I find so appealing about the form. But to appropriate Morrissey: Some ideas are bigger than others.
This story’s ideas are big.
Like the meaning of sin, goodness, religion, God, the world. That big.
What is amazing to me is it seems to me that the story essentially is a simple sexual-transgressions tale. The man sleeps with his host’s young daughter and then pays the price. It is not a particularly original incident, but whereas another author would likely grind out the narrative amidst a web of hyper-realistic details, Borges opens up the story into the semi-unreal. He turns the story into a consideration of religion and guilt on a much larger scale than one man’s mistake – though the story also serves as an engaging portrait of that one man, too. It is both and either. All at once. And that’s quite a trick on Borges’s part.
The new storm had broken out on a Tuesday. Thursday night, Espinosa was awakened by a soft knock at his door, which, just in case, he always kept locked. He got out of bed and opened it; there was the girl. In the dark he could hardly make her out, but by her footsteps he could tell she was barefoot, and moments later, in bed, that she must have come all the way from the other end of the house naked. She did not embrace him or speak a single word; she lay beside him, trembling. It was the first time she had known a man. When she left, she did not kiss him; Espinosa realized that he didn’t even know her name. For some reason that he did not want to pry into, he made up his mind that upon returning to Buenos Aires he would tell no one about what had taken place.