CULTURE

Short fiction that reflects the human soul

What could be more pleasant than eating your favorite food for Saturday lunch in your mother’s well-tended kitchen? Yet an enjoyable meal can turn into a nightmare and a familiar environment into a mechanism for irretrievable disaster. I couldn’t get the short-story collection «Pork and Cabbage» – a literary debut by Costas Kavanozis, published by Kedros – out of my head all summer; sure proof, in my view, of its high literary conception and impeccable execution. The narrator unveils the plot by drawing the reader’s attention to an ordinary kitchen chair. This brown chair, which the housewife proudly acquired at a discount, is the very same chair that, some years later, her son breaks in an outburst of rage at her suffocating maternal control, causing his father to have a stroke. Several years later, scoffing at her son’s warning, his obstinate mother climbs up onto the same chair, now repaired, only to fall and break her neck. The links between the «chair,» the «pork» and the «son’s face,» and the death of the two parents, are horribly powerful. But the sole responsibility of the passive son – who, like his father, is dominated by an oppressively autocratic mother – was to have reacted on a single occasion. By means of a highly complex mechanism of hidden ties and coincidences, he unintentionally brings about his parents’ destruction. An ordinary chair can thus be transformed from a symbol of uncontrolled maternal domination into an instrument of liberation and punishment but also of crushing guilt. And the delicious aroma of pork and cabbage ends up being identified with the emetic stench of a warped family setting. Not only is the mother in Kavanozis’s first novella scary, but so are the heroines of the other two stories, «Haircuts» and «Speechlessness.» As is gradually revealed, their monologues are the ravings of madwomen who, in their frenzy, go to the extremes of amputation and murder. Their morbid savagery is bearable thanks only to the excellence of the narrative technique. Kavanozis uses metaphor, contrast, metonymy, association and disguise to document the delirious mental confusion of his heroines. The talented hairdresser and her sexual partners know no limits as hair, shrubs and fingers are cut, pruned and chopped off. The part comes to represent the whole and the metaphorical turns with hair-raising ease into the literal, when the Greek expression «not even your little finger, Antonis» leads to the little finger of the unrivaled lover being kept in a jar of pickles. There is a similar absence of restraint in the charitable visitor who looks after an elderly woman who cannot speak, endlessly telling her stories that initially seem incomprehensible. Later, however, it becomes apparent that they refer to real events, to memories of earlier encounters when the female, or rather the male, visitor – since he is a transvestite – was a weak little boy, and the elderly woman engaged in unspeakable practices with her son, who in turn molested the child. The speechless terror of the child resembles the nightmarish scream that the now helpless old woman tries unsuccessfully to utter as she observes the murderous intentions of her visitor. Kavanozis manages to transform the particular situation of his sick characters into a general human condition. His artistically effective management of complex linguistic and narrative codes turns extreme stories into realistic nightmares, horrors and panics, bringing to light the primitive irrationality that nests in every soul.