the short story project

Genetic Material

Olga Sonkin On:

Genetic Material by Christos Tsiolkas

Julio Cortázar said that the novel wins by points, whereas the short story by knockout. Christos Tsiolkas’s short story, “Genetic Material,” is a knockout from which it is hard to recover long after the story ends. Tsiolkas delves into the dark matter from which DNA is comprised, and asks what genetic material really is. It could be said that genetic material is the matter found in the father’s testicles and the mother’s ovaries, but what does this information contribute to us? Are childhood experiences, a slap the father had dealt in his rage and a mother’s emotional abstention, also considered genetic material? Does emotional deprivation, the “lack,” shape us just like the “material” does? And maybe the lack is also genetic material whose DNA simply hasn’t been decoded yet? The genetic material of the demented father who dives to his end in Tsiolkas’s story is the yearning for the woman he had desired his entire life. The material has worn out, and all that is left is the primal longing. And when the body is finally consumed? The “genetic material” in Tsiolkas’s story is the promise that life will continue even after we die. While everything we are, the emotions and the longings, will perish with us, they will also remain in our children, in what we had created.