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“I find long sentences beautiful and natural,” said Cardenas when he interviewed the Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai at City Lights Books in 2012. Krasznahorkai felt the same way:

When you want to convince somebody about something, if you speak in a way, in that way, you use only long sentences, almost always just one sentence, because you didn’t need this dot, this is not natural if you speak in this way, if I want to convince you about something, that the world is such and such, then it’s a natural process for the sentences to become always longer and longer because I needed less and less the dot, this artificial border between sentences, because I didn’t use, I don’t use, now, for example, I don’t use dots, I use only pauses, and these are commas . . .

Krasznahorkai appreciates the naturalness of long sentences. But it is not verisimilitude that gives The Last Wolf, his one-sentence howl of a monologue, its power; that comes from the deranged mind of its narrator. Both the novellas in THE LAST WOLF and HERMAN (New Directions, $15.95), translated respectively by George Szirtes and John Batki, have an eerie, looking-glass quality. They are also very short — excellent gateway drugs to Krasznahorkai’s work. In The Revolutionaries Try Again, the characters are disturbed by their inability to say what happened; in The Last Wolf and Herman, it is what is known to have happened that disturbs.

The narrator of The Last Wolf used to be an academic and a well-known writer, but has “given up the idea of thought” and spends his days sipping beer in a Berlin bar. Out of nowhere he receives an invitation from an unnamed foundation to write about Extremadura, Spain, an “enormous, mercilessly barren, flat place.” This invitation is a cause of distress. The narrator has difficulty believing that it is really for him, or that he is still the person to whom it was addressed, but he accepts nonetheless: when the phone rings, you pick up.

From a game warden named José Miguel, the narrator discovers that there were really nine last wolves. Seven were hunted down — “murdered,” he says — and the eighth, pregnant and too heavy to run across the road, was hit by a car. The last, thought to have escaped to Portugal, was eventually found near a pond and shot. He also learns that the traps that were laid for the last two wolves had been tampered with — loosened so that the nooses would not tighten. Before he departs, José Miguel wants to confess something to the narrator, but “it was precisely what I expected . . . so I told him not to tell me.” We never learn what he would have said. What is most disquieting and, in a way, most melancholy, is that the wolf is not a symbol for anything. (“I hate symbolism,” Krasznahorkai said to Cardenas.) The wolf is simply itself, as the characters are themselves, helplessly caught in a series of events that they are doomed to live out.

HA077__03HF0-1Is it José Miguel’s lost confession that is displaced and rewritten in Herman? In the first section, “The Game Warden,” Herman, a master trapper who considers himself “the last of the Mohicans,” is charged with clearing the overgrown Remete woods of predators — “mostly stray dogs and feral cats, as well as a few badgers and foxes.” His work proceeds admirably, though at the end of the second year he becomes haunted by images of the pit where he flings the carcasses, seeing in his dreams “the enormous putrescent hairy mass of dead meat quivering like jelly.” He orders more steel-jawed traps, one and a half times the standard size, and begins to set them for a new prey — humans. In “The Death of a Craft,” military officers on an extended leave of orgies and fun wind up joining the night patrols that search for Herman. But while in “The Game Warden” Herman dies in a hail of bullets, in “The Death of a Craft” he escapes the search party and is never heard from again. Nothing quite lines up. Each of these brilliant narratives is a piece of a puzzle that has either no solution or too many. As the very best fiction always does, they bring another world — an alien world, let’s say — into our own.

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