July 29, 2013


By Daniel Alarcón
~6800 words

Two men from different social backgrounds become lovers in prison.

Rogelio is an illiterate rural kid arrested for transporting drug money for his brother. Henry is a writer jailed for a subversive play about the country's president. (The name of the country is not revealed, but it would appear to be somewhere in Latin America.) They end up in the same cell in the country's most infamous prison, called Collectors, where they become friends and then lovers. Henry is released after a year and a half, but Rogelio dies in a prison riot.

Despite a compelling plot with several potentially poignant moments, this story failed to move me. The problems begin, I think, with the divided perspective. The narrative opens in Rogelio's point of view but switches to Henry's on the second page and never returns. Henry is clearly the main character, which makes the choice of initial perspective rather baffling. And even once the POV switches to Henry, it becomes a bit fuzzy on occasion, for example:
"It was an idea that all new inmates contemplated upon first entering the prison." How would Henry know such a thing?
"She was perfect, he said, and she was…" Do we really need that secondary narrative confirmation? Ironically, it undermines Henry's POV rather than reinforcing it.
I also found the emphasis on chronological precision (three dates are mentioned: 1980, 1982, and April 8, 1986) a bit odd, especially given that details such as the name of country are never revealed.

Finally, the story felt on the unoriginal side to me. Prison stories are not exactly new, nor are those of prison love, and this one doesn't do much in my view to rise above the competition. In general, Alarcón borrows too heavily from the Latin American writers he clearly admires: the prison lovers from Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman and the sweeping perspective of García Márquez's A Hundred Years of Solitude come to mind.

"Collectors" is a passable story that misses many opportunities to be exceptional.


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