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Hello, everyone! As the class has discussed within this board, "All About Suicide" is quite an experimental piece of short fiction. Its length (less than a page) piques our curiosity as this, most likely, isn't what we are used to when we are asked to read a "story." Critics tend to put pieces like "All About Suicide" in the category of the "short short" story or "flash fiction" which is usually a work that is 1-3 pages in length.
Here are some other characteristics of experimental fiction that can be found within Luisa Valenzuela's story and noted by several class members. This was a wonderful, critical class discussion, by the way, one that I wanted the class to run and be empowered by....
The plot does not follow Freytag's model. It has little exposition or "set up" for readers and we are left to grapple with the few details the author chooses to give us. We immediately ask, "Who is Ismael?" "What's wrong?" "Why has he made this decision to kill himself?" The narrative opens with immediate conflict, as most short stories will tend to do. Most, if not all readers, will assume that Ismael is committing suicide because the title of the story implies this. The narrative does not follow a structured, linear path and has several flashbacks used--we have Ismael's present state, then we shift backward to Ismael in the bar; then the narrative goes back even farther to "Ismael in the cradle crying because his diapers are dirty and nobody is changing him." As readers, we are given more details as to the past of this character but we still ask questions and are forced to fill in the blanks. For example, are his diapers dirty because of poverty? Is someone there but is neglecting him as a baby? The narrative also jumps forward to the first grade, then forward still to Ismael in the ministry, then ultimately ends at the beginning
The author uses vivid and often disturbing imagery. Often these images are repeated--i.e. the image of Ismael slowly/gently rubbing the gun across his face. These images are graphic for readers and we must try to figure out the connection the character makes with this action and deriving "pleasure" from it. The sentiment of violence mixed with sensuality is difficult to reconcile. Keep in mind, perhaps, the controversy this may have caused in 1967 when this story was published. Always remember that, often, historical context can factor into our comprehension of literature. Irregular syntax is used throughout. There are several fragments used--i.e. "Bang." "Not that far." "One more person dead in the city." "Without saying a word." "Dead." These fragments are short, choppy, and dramatic, emphasizing the conflict. Also, there seems to be a detached, desensitized, nonchalent attitude with "One more person dead in the city...It's getting to be a vice"--as if this type of violence occurs regularly. The author speaks directly to the readers to forge a confidential connection--i.e. "Let's recapitulate." "Not that far." "We must go back farther if we want to get at the truth."
More questions: Who is the minister who was one day his friend? Why did they fight? Why is Ismael being forced to be silent? What are some possibilities for this conflict and their subsequent estrangement? What are the two meanings of "minister?" We may automatically assume that it is related to the priesthood/church (which then would lead to interpretations of molestation...) but Valenzuela actually intends minister to mean a high ranking government official.
The conclusion: If Ismael has killed himself, how does he walk out of "his office?" Here, we may have to read and reread this short piece to try to figure this out. The author has used that ambiguous pronoun in the beginning that causes us to think that Ismael is rubbing the gun across his own face, when in fact, he is rubbing the gun…