These are expansive stories, with hints of Carver passed through a Mediterranean filter and featuring Barcelonians from a devalued middle class: young people who have done the low-cost holiday, who go to Casa Àsia and Starbucks, less narcissistic than they seem, driven out from the city, their education at odds with the insecurity they are experiencing.
During an interview in the early 1990s, a writer stated that he was doing a collection of stories where the characters had strange or unusual professions. The literary rationale seemed like a good hook for the reader, full of picturesque and playful scenes. However, since the economic downturn in 2008, many books with a generational slant, especially of those born around the 1980s such as this one by Jordi Nopca (winner of the Documenta Prize), have inevitably turned work into a basic trait of the characters, and one that is filled with amazement.
So it goes among this band of workers in the wrong place, such as the dog groomer in “Anell de compromís” [Engagement Ring], the art graduate in “No te’n vagis” [Don’t Go] and the coffee maker salesman in “Navalla suïssa” [Swiss Army Knife]. These are expansive stories, with hints of Carver passed through a Mediterranean filter and featuring Barcelonians from a devalued middle class: young people who have done the low-cost holiday, who go to Casa Àsia and Starbucks, less narcissistic than they seem, driven out from the city, their education at odds with the insecurity they are experiencing. The collection also shows their parents or grandparents, who – although we see a more focused class – often appear as residents in an old peoples’ home or as hospital patients.
The uncertainty of man-woman relationships is everywhere in these stories. Couples stick it out for a child and are often ruined by infidelity. “Cinema d’autor” [Indie Film] focuses on the beginnings of a relationship, when love already becomes twisted. Written in confident prose that tactfully pushes the storyline forward and disregards explosive endings, there is always an unconventional ingredient that shakes up the fundamental realism. Out of the ten stories in the collection, four or five are of significant quality. We never know where they will take us; the irony and drama are perfectly counterbalanced and all together they upend the uncomfortable label of “generational literature”.
“L’Àngels Quintana i en Fèlix Palme…” [Àngels Quintana and Fèlix Palme…] is a good reflection of how, in the midst of the touristic city/display window, a couple is having a mental breakdown and their only gesture of protest is putting bananas in cars’ exhaust pipes. He becomes an alcoholic; she fades into comical superstition, and the unfounded belief in “we have each other” acts as a dubious leaven.
One of the outstanding stories is “Navalla suïssa” [Swiss Army Knife], which has a psychopathic backdrop and is somewhat reminiscent of Haneke’s first films: a violent gesture within touching distance of a well-organised, vacuous reality. There is visible sarcasm in “La pantera d’Oklahoma” [The Oklahoman Panther], which does an excellent job of highlighting how the banal world of a bestselling author finds resonance abroad by spreading his by-products.
We may think that the lack of expectation brought by the crisis would make some books in the new wave of literature portray reality from a perspective of overindulgence. The thing is that some of these works – I’m thinking about the novels by David Ventura or the recent one by Daniel Arbós – opt for the balm of satire and humour. If this humour is done well, such as in this collection by Nopca, the reader will come away thankful.