The Challenge by Mario Vargas Llosa, 1958
The magic trick:
Poking holes in the story’s code of macho honor
This isn’t far off from being a Peruvian version of The Outsiders. Young tuffs maiming each other in the name of some kind of idiotic macho code of manhood.
There are two counterpoints in the story that subtly push against that code. First, there is the character of Leonidas, who delivers recurring messages of caution, wisdom, age, and ache. Secondly, we get a very brief glimpse of the narrator’s domestic life.
These brief flashes of normalcy clash with the code of the challenge, making it all the more frustrating and painful for the reader. And that’s quite a trick on Vargas Llosa’s part.
We went our separate ways at the corner by the church. I walked home quickly. Nobody was there. I put on overalls and two pullovers and hid my knife, wrapped in a handkerchief, in the back pocket of my pants. As I was leaving, I met my wife, just getting home.
“Going out again?” she asked.
“Yeah. I’ve got some business to take care of.”
The boy was asleep in her arms and I had the impression he was dead.
“You’ve got to get up early,” she insisted. “You work Sundays, remember?”
“Don’t worry,” I replied. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
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