‘Continuity of Parks’ is a 1956 short story by the Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar (1914-84). In the story, which is just two pages long, a man reads a novel in which two lovers, a man and a woman, plot the murder of the woman’s husband. At the end of the story, it turns out that, remarkably, the man reading the novel is the husband who is about to be murdered.
You can read ‘Continuity of Parks’ here before proceeding to our summary and analysis of the story below.
‘Continuity of Parks’: summary
Cortázar’s story begins with a man reading a novel. He had started reading it a few days earlier and had had to set it aside to attend to urgent business matters. On the train on his way back to his estate where he lives, he had resumed reading it. He then returned to it in the afternoon, sitting in his study in his favourite armchair with its back to the door and facing out onto the tree-filled park outside.
As he reads, the man finds the real things around him in his study starting to recede as he becomes more invested in the novel, its characters and its imagery. He feels completely absorbed in the novel, which describes an encounter in a mountain cabin between two lovers. It emerges that the male character plans to kill his female lover’s husband (although this is only hinted), so that the two lovers can be together.
In time, the two lovers go their separate ways as they leave the cabin: the woman follows a trail leading to the north, while the man heads south. He makes his way towards a large house and surrounding estate, and then he sneaks inside the house, the guard dogs failing to bark to warn of his intrusion and the estate manager having gone home.
The man makes his way through the house, walking upstairs, and finding each room empty until he comes to a room in which there is an armchair with its back to the door, and a man sitting in the armchair, reading a novel – just like the man at the beginning of the story.
‘Continuity of Parks’: analysis
As the (English) title of Cortázar’s short story suggests, ‘Continuity of Parks’ is about two ‘parks’ or worlds which are revealed, at the end of the story, to be one and the same: the man reading a novel in which two lovers plot the death of the woman’s husband turns out to be the doomed husband from the novel he is himself reading. How should we interpret this piece of fiction, what might almost be called micro-fiction (it runs to just a couple of pages) or metafiction (a self-conscious form of literature in which characters are aware that they are part of a work of fiction)?
The ‘metafiction’ label is worth closer analysis. ‘Continuity of Parks’ suggests, in one reading of the story’s meaning at least, that reading fiction can be so immersive an experience that we come literally to ‘identify with’ the characters within a novel, our fates bound up with theirs. In this connection, it is curious that the man reading the novel places himself within the role of the cuckolded husband, rather than the wife’s paramour doing the murdering: Cortázar’s story implies that we identify with certain characters based on shared personalities or circumstances (the reader is rich and lives on a large country estate, like the husband in the novel).
Yet this is to miss the central detail of Cortázar’s story: namely the fact that the reader presumably doesn’t know that the husband in the novel will choose to sit in an armchair in exactly the same position as his own. If life imitates art, then there is something uncanny about the way the reader finds himself reading about the fate of a character who, it so happens, is in an identical situation. ‘Continuity of Parks’ is, therefore, a literal manifestation of the idea of become ‘lost in a good book’, of being so immersed and invested in the emotional lives of the characters one reads about that one becomes an actual participant in the novel.
However, it goes further than this. For the man reading the novel does not merely realise that he is a character in the novel, but that everything that surrounds him – the house in which he lives, the park outside his window, the armchair in which he sits – is nothing more than a fictional construct, a false reality conjured up within the novelist’s imagination.
This leads us to a kind of paradox, similar to those paradoxes of reading that we find in the work of another Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges: if the man reading the novel doesn’t exist outside of the novel, how does he pick up the novel and begin reading it in the first place? What was actually taking place when he laid aside the novel to attend to business, or were these moments a delusion on his part? Or is his participation in the events of the novel the real delusion, and everything else is, after all, the reality? What happens to him when he his killed by the other man, assuming the male intruder goes through with the plan he and his lover hatched in the cabin?
Cortázar’s story remains open-ended on these questions, allowing us, as readers, to become immersed in his metafictional story, so that our experience of reading ‘Continuity of Parks’ becomes oddly similar to the man’s experience reading the novel within ‘Continuity of Parks’. Because the story does not offer up answers to the above questions and instead teases the reader with its paradox, we are forced to take an active participation in the story presented to us. ‘Continuity’, indeed.