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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Life and Memoirs
of Doctor Pi

Edgar Bayley

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To purchase The Life and Memoirs of Doctor Pi

Title: The Life and Memoirs of Doctor Pi
Author: Edgar Bayley
Genre: Stories
Written: 1983 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 86 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Life and Memoirs of Doctor Pi - US
The Life and Memoirs of Doctor Pi - UK
The Life and Memoirs of Doctor Pi - Canada
  • Spanish title: Vida y memoria del Doctor Pi y otras historias
  • Translated by Emily Toder

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Our Assessment:

B : short, artful stories -- but too satisfied with their vagueness

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Life and Memoirs of Doctor Pi, a short volume of twenty-three Dr.Pi-stories, a dozen 'Other Stories', and a verse-epilogue (all in 85 pages), is Edgar Bayley's "sole publication in prose" (so translator Emily Toder, in her brief Afterword). Bayley was primarily a poet, and it shows in these stories, focused more on neat expression and less on (conventional) story-telling. There's an effort at narrative here, but in the most playful manner; as such, these laconic stories do bear some resemblance to Brecht's Stories of Mr. Keuner, but Bayley keeps his Dr.Pi an even more elusive figure.
       Bayley readily plunges his Dr.Pi into adventures of various sorts, opening stories with passages such as:

     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 he arrived at the agreed-upon shack.
       It's in such casual presentation of what happens to Dr.Pi, with no elaboration or commentary, that Bayley is at his most successful; indeed, there are a number of places one wishes he had just left it at that. The stories themselves then build a bit more expectation -- yet mostly also offer less satisfaction, as Bayley shows little interest in traditional story-telling and often offers what amounts to a willful non-dénouement. But not always: the story 'An Old Lady Travels by Bus' comes with a brown package whose contents reveal themselves in the end and certainly are unexpected -- but, typically, they are unexpected precisely because they are also a physical impossibility .
       Bayley conceives some rather elaborate mysteries that Dr.Pi gets embroiled in -- "Now he saw it plainly: the poet Madariaga was planning to bring Chiron the centaur back to life" -- and he does manage to create a sort of character-portrait: if elusive, Dr.Pi also takes on some shape here, his idiosyncrasies and ways (and taste for brunettes) well conveyed. Still, there's a shapelessness to many of these pieces -- or rather, though carefully shaped (in their words and presentation), they too rarely offer the traditional satisfactions of any resolution (while yet also not reveling solely in complete indeterminacy ).
       The opening lines of the first story warn:
     I say nothing, I think nothing, Dr.Pi repeated to himself
       It's not quite that bad -- Dr.Pi is far from a blank -- but Bayley's 'stories' tend to narrative abnegation. There's some very fine stuff here, but on the whole the stories in the collection seem too pleased with their own vagueness.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 December 2010

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The Life and Memoirs of Doctor Pi: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine author Edgar Bayley lived 1919 to 1990.

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