Award-winning author Daniel Chacón’s new short-story collection – “Kafka in a Skirt: Stories from the Wall” – includes a scene in which a woman reads a blurb on the cover of a book she has encountered: 

“This book makes you wonder.” 

That is a perfect Twitter-length review for Chacón’s fascinating book, coming in October from University of Arizona Press. “Kafka in a Skirt” is the sixth book of fiction from Chacón, a gifted storyteller who is also chair of UTEP’s creative writing department.

“Kafka in a Skirt” honors the spirit of Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez and other legendary Latin American writers of magical realism. 

Set partly in El Paso, the stories bridge the real and surreal in a journey through universal themes of desire, love, loss and loneliness. They also navigate the invisible but all-too-familiar walls and barriers that separate and divide people, even loved ones, in contemporary, multicultural society, which often seems to consist of multiple, parallel universes.

With a nod to Julio Cortázar’s “Hopscotch” and Ana Castillo’s “The Mixquiahuala Letters,” Chacón introduces the collection with “The Hidden Order of Things,” a guide to alternate paths through the 28 stories.

I first read the book from front to back and was amused when certain characters and references reappeared unexpectedly in later stories, as if the stories were connected by wormholes – a concept explored in “Every Book is a Wormhole,” arguably the most magical of the stories. Some readers will feel compelled to revisit this collection much like a favorite theme park or museum. 

Chacón’s “guide” offers opportunities to experience “Kafka in a Skirt” from different points of view, including the joy of randomly dipping into it like a box of assorted chocolates. 

In one of my personal favorites –– “Running Through a Museum” –– a man contemplates a book that changed his life, yet he cannot recall the title or details of the book:

“...it was the reading of the book, the entering into the glow. ... Reading a book you’ll forget is like visiting a foreign city in your youth. You forget the details in your later years, but the experience still was. It still changed you.”

“Kafka in a Skirt” is a literary experience that you will not soon forget. It has the power to change how you think about literature, life and relationships. And it will likely leave you with a desire to experience more of the universe through the mystical glow of Chacón’s imagination.

 

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