Trout, Belly Up

The title story of Trout, Belly Up by Rodrigo Fuentes (newly translated by Ellen Jones) ends with the narrator surveying the tanks of trout he has been tasked with looking after:

“The surfaces of the tanks were covered in trout, their fat, silver bellies floating upwards… Not a thing was moving in there, and without thinking about it I stuck my whole arm into the first tank, pushing the dead trout aside.”

Such surreal, even grotesque, images are not unusual in Fuentes’ stories, and though they may initially appear comic – such as the tree decorated with shoes in ‘Dive’ or the cow which walks on two legs in ‘Out of the Blue, Perla’ – death is generally close behind.

In ‘Trout, Belly Up’ the failure of Don Henrik’s project to breed and sell trout in the Guatemalan mountains seems almost inevitable. The narrator is initially reluctant to become involved, not because he regards the scheme as implausible but because he does not want to work:

“Hoping to get rid of him, I yelled that I’d be up in a minute, before settling back into the hammock.”

He demonstrates the same lackadaisical attitude to his wife, Ermina, and his four children when he becomes involved with a younger woman from the village, Anali. This affair is inadvertently responsible for the death of the trout, as first his wife leaves him, and then he lies to his only colleague, Juancho, to get rid of him in anticipation of Anali’s arrival. His lack of care for her is shown when he turns on her after discovering the tanks have failed:

“After a while she lowered her gaze and, turning, headed off in the direction of the path. She was the second woman to walk away from me in two days.”

That he ends the story alone is the logical conclusion to many of the tales, including the final story of the collection, ‘Henrik’ (Henrik is a recurrent name featuring in almost every story, though whether this identifies the same character is less clear). Henrik is challenged over the ownership of the farm he has inherited by criminals:

“Those men, they’re no farmers, all they’ve got is the moustache.”

In the story’s final moments he feels, along with the narrator and his mother, threatened in his home. The narrator watches him head outside with a gun in his hand:

“His white dressing gown glows bright in the darkness. He takes another step. I sit up on the sofa and see the pistol in his hand, grasped firmly against his hip.”

In completely different circumstances, we meet a similar scenario in ‘Whisky’. Here Mata, an alcoholic, is given a “whiny dog” by his sponsor. The dog helps create a bond between him and his daughter:

“He began to look forward to his weekends with Pia and Whisky. Nothing changed about those visits except the size of the dog, who was growing at an alarming rate.”

The dog goes missing and, after searching unsuccessfully for a while, one night they follow its bark to the edge of a ravine. Mata must descend into the ravine, the bottom of which cannot be seen, if he is to rescue his daughter’s dog.

‘Whisky’ is perhaps as close as Fuentes gets to a domestic story; in most of the stories, as with ‘Henrik’, the threat comes from the violence of men. In ‘Trout, Belly Up’ the narrator is able to scare off Juancho as he is working on the mountain to escape his pursuers:

“…to get away from that side of the mountain and be closer to the summit, up here where the only access is along a muddy track.”

In ‘Out of the Blue, Perla’ the walking cow incenses the gunmen who are travelling from farm to farm so much that they return to assault her:

“Don’t worry about your mount… she’ll be exactly the same, she just won’t be such a tease from now on.”

In ‘Ubaldo’s Island’ violent criminals, with a lawyer in tow, attempt to intimidate Ubaldo into signing over the land. Here the story takes a direction which is perhaps more optimistic, though just as violent, as the local population unite to frighten them off.

In Trout, Belly Up Fuentes gives us a glimpse into a world where violence is frequently only a few feet away, and fear is so commonplace it invites recklessness. When, in ‘Dive’ a character comments that, “he realised something fucked up was about to happen,” he expresses a feeling which follows the reader throughout the book. Once again, Charco Press opens the door and ventures out into the darkness where most fiction fears to tread.


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3 Responses to “Trout, Belly Up”

  1. winstonsdad Says:

    Just waiting my copy should be here soon

  2. A Perfect Cemetery | 1streading's Blog Says:

    […] of short stories. This has brought us Margarita Garcia Robayo’s Fish Soup, Rodrigo Fuentes’ Trout, Belly Up, and now, Federico Falco’s A Perfect Cemetery, translated by International Booker Prize winner, […]

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