‘The Balcony’ by Filisberto Hernández

The Balcony by Fiisberto Hernández, 1976

The magic trick:

Turning the literary analysis process in on itself

This story does a neat thing. It inverts the literary reading experience on itself. As good short-story-magic-trick connoisseurs, we likely take in this story and begin to analyze what the parasols might mean. We ask, What does the spider represent? We consider the balcony as an important metaphor.

But guess what? We’ve been beaten to the punch.

The woman in this story is doing the same thing. Life is a literary device for her. So it makes the reader’s instinct for analysis not only feel redundant but weird, if not foolish.

And that’s quite a trick on Hernández’s part.

The selection:

The poem was corny, but she seemed to have kept count of her syllables. She’d found an unexpected rhyme for “nightgown”: I would tell her it was fresh. Watching the old man, I had passed my tongue over my lower lip – but he was listening to his daughter. Now I began to feel the poem would never end. And then suddenly she rhymed “night” with “white” and it was over.

I sat there in serene contemplation, listening to myself, hoping to convey the impression that I was about to come up with something.

“I’m struck by the childish quality of the poem,” I began. “It’s very fresh and . . .”

The word “fresh” wasn’t out of my mouth when she started to say:

“I have another one . . .”

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