The Life and Memoirs of Dr. Pi and Other Stories
 by Edgar Bayley

Translated by Emily Toder

Clockroot Press
First Collection Published in English

"Dr Pi was going to be late to his date. He had had various difficulties descending the mountain. Avalanches, insistent salespeople, a snake, and a broken leg. but in the end, Pi arrived at the agreed-on shack..."

Reviewed by Tania Hershman

Dr. Pi is quite something! Unlike any character I've ever comes across. As the back cover so beautifully sums up, he is "a sleuth without a crime... a flậneur on official business. Organizer of unknowable expeditions, lover of brunettes". Who wouldn't want to read about what he gets up to? (Isn't
"flậneur" one of the most wonderful words?)

These often hysterically funny short fictions - occasionally teetering on the brink of becoming prose poetry and presented in a delightful, slightly odd-sized book -  are, shockingly, the first time this major Argentinian poet, playwright, essayist and director has been translated into English,
by Emily Toder. As with Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud's A Life On Paper, this makes me furious. Why has it taken so long? But enough of fury, let us move on to enjoyment with a tinge of philosophical enquiry, which is really what Dr. Pi himself is after.

The first 23 stories in the collection are the "life and memoirs" of our host, Dr. Pi. Many of them are less than one page long; here is the first one, The Charmer, in its entirety:
I say nothing, I think nothing, Dr. Pi repeated to himself, without moving his lips, as he crossed the street. A blue deer and a helicopter briefly drew his attention.

He took out his umbrella and said finally in a very low voice:

"It was necessary."

A woman, plump and middle-aged, warned him:

"Careful, your shoelaces have come undone."

Pi thanked her for the warning and tied his shoes. Then he walked confidently towards the snake charmer.

She held her out arms to him and abandoned her stand at the fairgrounds.

"Only for a few moments," said the charmer.

"There is nothing but moments, a few small moments," said Pi.
Dr. Pi seems to have his fair share of rather large moments, often being requried to tackle very important missions of the world-saving kind that only he can solve, taking him down secret tunnels and up and down more than your average share of mountains. He is a sort of erudite and quirky James Bond, with a penchant for sleeping with many women, especially brunettes, which often temporarily sidetrack him from his assigned task, as in The Bundle:
"Faster. We must hurry. If not, the espletia resin will be the end of us," warned Pi.

One of the men stumbled and the suitcase fell on top of him. In this way they arrived at the first floor. A door opened and there stood a very pale woman with blackish hair wearing a sheer robe. She asked Dr. Pi to come in. He seemed to reflect for a few moments.

"Yes, that will be most appropriate. I will sleep with this woman. You bring the package down and give it to Enrique Molina, who needs it urgently."
In Dr. Pi's world, stopping to sleep with a dark-haired woman - even though the bundle is "getting larger and heavier..." and "from inside emerged a grayish-brown gelatinous substance" -  is entirely appropriate, although it does merit a brief reflection. This story ends on a more existential note (the package, you will be glad to hear, is safely delivered ) as Dr. Pi runs into a professor of sociology:
"Excuse me, Professor, but daily life does not exist," answered Pi. "I've arrived at that conclusion by virtue of my own empirical research".
Whether it does or not, Dr. Pi is a most amusing guide to various esoteric aspects of his, at least. In one of my favourite stories, The Waterfall and the Linguist, Dr. Pi is waiting for Marta under a waterfall. However, instead, a linguist turns up, "specializing in stylistics". They have a conversation about discourse. Of course. The linguist, it turns out, is female, but, sadly for her, she is blonde. Marta arrives and the linguist leaves. This is the ending of the story:
Pi hugged and kissed her and greeted her with these words:

"The defamiliarization of the signifier is not resolved by the degradation of its semantic weight."

These fictions will have you laughing out loud heartily and frequently. The 12 "other stories" at the end are also filled with sharp writing, odd imagery and wonderful names, but I missed Dr. Pi to whom I'd become very fond.

I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book, which entertains but does more than that. These stories are both ordered and chaotic, dream-like and yet truthful. Through humour, sheer oddness and philosophical musings, Bayley conveys back to us something of our world, in which nothing ends neatly, no-one can really save the day, and when it comes down to it, everything should be put on hold in order to spend time with a "young brunette with bare, powerful legs, shorts, and a striped T-shirt" on a tandem bike.

Read a story from this collection in Route 9

Tania Hershman is editor of The Short Review. Her first collection, The White Road and Other Stories, was commended, 2009 Orange Award for New Writers. Tania is currently writer-in-residence in the Science Faculty at Bristol University, working on a collection of biology-inspired fictions.

Tania's other Short Reviews: Etgar Keret & Samir el-Youssef "Gaza Blues"

Melvin J. Bukiet "A Faker's Dozen"

Rusty Barnes "Breaking it Down"

Roy Kesey "All Over"

John Klima (ed) "Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories"

Kelley Eskridge "Dangerous Space"

18 Lies and 3 Truths: StoryQuarterly 2007 Annual

Aimee Bender "Wilful Creatures"

Paddy O'Reilly "The End of the World"

Annie Clarkson "Winter Hands"

Yannick Murphy "In a Bear's Eye"

Declan Meade (ed) "Let's Be Alone Together"

Lise Erdrich "Night Train"

Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing

Alexandra Chasin "Kissed By"

Tamar Yellin "Kafka in Bronteland"

Mary Miller "Big World"

Ali Smith "The First Person and Other Stories"

Chris Beckett "The Turing Test"

Petina Gappah "An Elegy for Easterly"

Sean Lovelace "How Some People Like Their Eggs"

Amnesty International "Freedom: An Anthology of Short Stories Celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights"

A L Kennedy "What Becomes"

Davy Byrnes Stories

Janice Galloway "Collected Stories"

Peter Orner "Esther Stories"

SeŠn ” FaolŠin "Selected Stories"

"The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis"

Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud "A Life on Paper"

Andrew Ivortow "Master of Sweet Dreams"

Jonathan Papernick "There is No Other"
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Edgar Bayley (1919–1990) was born in Buenos Aires and was an active and influential participant in avant-garde Argentine poetry, representing a major figure in its literary magazines and institutions throughout the latter half of the last century, and was among the founders of the invencionista movement that swept the city, and a bit beyond, in the 1940s and ‘50s. Poet, playwright, director, translator, and essayist, he is the author of fourteen published works in diverse genres.