The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories
by Horacio Quiroga

A Review by Scott finished Dec. 12, 2011

This review will contain spoilers!

In many sentences:

There were a lot of highs and lows to this collection of short stories which, on the whole, left me feeling like they were simply good, but not great short stories. Quiroga is clearly a talented short story writer, but when compared to masters of the genre (here I'm thinking of Poe, Borges, Joyce, even Phillip K. Dick) he doesn't quite stand up. Let's look at each in turn briefly.

It's been a long time since I've read Poe (and so I want to read him again soon in order to make this comparison better when I do) but I remember Poe being much creepier than Quiroga and, importantly, first. While Quiroga definitely had some creepy tales, the fact that Poe was out there doing it first certainly makes a difference for my preference for him.

Compared to Borges, Quiroga really doesn't even remotely hold up. Borges does so many more clever things, not just in terms of the content of his short stories (they reach a more sophisticated level in terms of metaphysics and philosophy) but also in terms of structure. While Quiroga wrote structurally sound and impressive short stories, Borges liked to turn that structure on its head, writing short stories that reference the most important component of them, rather than talking about them directly. Quiroga, quite simply, doesn't do anything nearly this creative structurally.

Joyce is a master of language, and to be fair, the translation to English may have played a part in the failure to compare on this front. Finally, Dick's short stories are just so much more out there, covering far more creative subjects than Quiroga. Quiroga centers so much on the land and world he knew, that comparing him to someone who does not restrict himself to planet Earth makes it easy to give this one to Dick.

None of this is to say his short stories are bad. I did just compare him to some of the greatest short story writers ever, so that's saying something. He is absolutely at his best when he's talking about death. "The Dead Man", and "Drifting", both of which focus on the thoughts of men as they are clearly dying, are fascinating short stories. They do a wonderful job of crystallizing the possible moments before death, and in such a short time that they are definitely the ones to read if you don't want to read them all.

The other tales I would highly recommend from this volume are "The Feather Pillow" and "The Decapitated Chicken." Both very creepy, and very morbid. I thought a lot about "The Decapitated Chicken", as I was so disturbed by its ending. I think, ultimately, the idea Quiroga was trying to get across here was that if you treat a human like an animal, as the 4 sons were treated, then you should expect them to behave with the cruelty, and violence of a wild beast. How could they have known to act any differently? Or, to put it another way, how could they know the girl was not an animal, since she appeared like them, and they were treated as animals?

In summary, this isn't a bad collection of short stories, and I would recommend it if you are fan of the genre and are looking for something to read. However, if you haven't read all of the authors I've previously mentioned, you should absolutely start there first.

First Line

"Her entire honeymoon gave her hot and cold shivers."

Horacio Quiroga the First Line of The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories

Last Line

"Because behind him, at the foot of a fence post, with his legs higher than his body, caught in a wire fence, his beloved son, dead since ten o'clock in the morning, likes in the sun."

Horacio Quiroga the Last Line of in The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories

Originally Published Jan. 1, 1976

Paperback edition:

166 pages - June 15, 2004

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