Julio Cortazár’s short story “Continuity of Parks” was first published in 1964 in Spanish. It’s a very short work of meta-fiction.
Summary of “Continuity of Parks”
A man returns to a novel he had started a few days ago. His interest in it slowly grew. After taking care of some business, he picks it up again at home in his study, sitting in his favorite armchair with his back to the door.
He caresses the green velvet upholstery of his armchair and starts the final chapters. The story easily comes back to mind. He loses himself in the illusion of the hero and heroine’s dilemma. It’s their final meeting in a mountain cabin. The woman arrives first, followed by the man with a cut on his face. She tends to it but he rebuffs her.
The dagger is warm against his chest and he’s ready to destroy someone with it. They go over the details of the plan. Everything has been carefully worked out, including alibis.
It’s getting dark. They leave the cabin with the woman following the trail north and the man going south. The both set off running. The man crouches in the brush near a house. The dogs don’t bark and the estate manager is away.
He walks through the front door and remembers the woman’s directions to his target. He finds the door of the salon and enters with the knife in his hand. Inside is a man reading a novel sitting in a green velvet armchair.
Theme: The Danger of Reading
The danger the man is in—especially his implied murder—could be interpreted as a symbol for the “danger” of reading, that is, its ability to destroy our reality. Reading can challenge a person’s most cherished beliefs, which could be viewed as a danger in itself, as a figurative attack.
As the man’s reality is destroyed at the end of the story, so can reading destroy our “reality”. Losing confidence in a cherished belief could seem as impossible as a novel’s character doing us harm. But reading has the ability to do this, and the experience could be just as disorienting as the twist in this story.
Theme: The Power of Fiction
The intrusion of the novel on the man’s real life could also be interpreted as a symbol of the power of fiction.
At first, the man has a “slowly growing interest in the plot” of his novel. When he returns to it, “the illusion took hold of him” and he “disengag[ed] himself line by line from all that surrounded him.” He becomes immersed in the narrative. With this in mind, we can interpret the ending, not as a fantastical occurrence, but as a representation of the man’s utter immersion in a piece of fiction.
When reading a compelling story, we can become so absorbed in it that we forget we’re reading a completely contrived work, and instead, think of the characters as real people, as real as the murderer becomes to the man in the chair.
Fiction has the power to take us places we’ve never been or don’t exist, experience the company of people we’ve never met, and put us in situations far outside the mundane boundaries of our lives. Sometimes, fictional stories and characters can have a profound influence on our lives. They can also provide us with a significant escape from everyday life. The more immersed we become in fiction, the more it can influence real life.
1. Can the ending be taken as a twist that doesn’t require an explanation, one that’s simply clever or purely for entertainment?
Not really. As a twist ending it isn’t “fair”. Generally, a twist ending seems reasonable in hindsight. We can go back through the story and find the clues that led to it, clues that could have tipped off an alert reader to the ending. Most importantly, the ending is consistent with the rest of the story.
It’s possible to find some clues in this story, such as the emphasis on how immersed the man becomes in the novel. An alert reader might also recognize the repeated mentions of the armchair and realize it must pay off later. Despite these things, it’s unlikely a reader would guess the story’s twist because it’s inconsistent with the rest of the story.
The story is realistic up to the end where it suddenly turns into a fantasy. A true twist ending would have had to be realistic as well if a reader isn’t to feel cheated. There is the risk of experiencing the story this way if we’re not in the mood for interpretation. We could simply feel the ending is a cheap trick because it breaks its own rules. The ending only works in this story if we realize and care that it has some symbolic meaning.
Its effectiveness also depends on its being a short story. There’s a reason this story is very short, just over 600 words. Imagine reading a novel length work, or even a short story of 5,000 words, that ended this way. I don’t know about you, but I would be upset, viewing it as a manipulation and a waste of time, written by someone who obviously had no story to tell but told one anyway. But “Continuity of Parks” doesn’t have that affect on me or, I think, on most readers. There seems to be good reason to believe the ending isn’t just a trick, but has deeper meaning.
2. What does the title mean?
The title seems to indicate the blending of the “real” story with the one in the novel.
Outside the man’s window are “oak trees in the park” and later, the attacker crouches “among the trees.” Here is a continuity of parks, as the park in the inner story blends into the one in the outer story, allowing a character to pass from one to the other. This seems to support the interpretations that the story is saying something about the effect of fiction or our relationship to it.