Amidst the desolate pampas of Argentina, two nameless fugitives serendipitously meet and fall deeply in love. The woman, an orphan, is running from her tragic past and sheltered life. The man, a gaucho, is fleeing from the seven vengeful brothers of a man he killed during a fight.

Although both are emotionally wounded and isolated, they become joined by the simple act of cleaning and dressing the deep laceration of the gaucho’s arm. When they discover the ecstasy and contentment of love, their passion is abruptly and violently challenged by the gaucho’s injured arm which becomes infected with tetanus.

The woman faithfully cares for her suffering lover who silently endures the fever, severe muscle spasms, and wasting of tetanus before succumbing to the painful death of lockjaw. Ironically his face is paralyzed with a twisted smile due to the persistent muscle contractions.

The brothers of the man whom the gaucho had killed arrive too late to exact their revenge so they set fire to the couple’s farmhouse and burn it to the ground. The woman places a handful of her lover’s burning ashes in her mouth thus preserving his remains and uniting his spirit with hers forever.


The title, "Avalanche," functions not only as a metaphor for the sudden destruction, detachment, and overwhelming of individuals but also serves as the woman’s secret name for her lover and the catastrophic event that opens the story. Richard Selzer continues his exploration of the meaning of love and revisits two of his favorite themes.

First, love is depicted as a contagion. It infects, stirs, and sometimes overpowers people much like a germ. In another sense, love also competes with disease as they both strive to consume the afflicted.

Second, Selzer poignantly illustrates how illness and suffering not only elevate even the most ordinary individuals but occasionally beatify them. "Avalanche" is reminiscent of two other stories by Selzer: "Tom and Lily" and Luis, also in this collection. In all three stories, love and illness dramatically collide as both caregiver and victim transcend our expectations of them.

Primary Source

The Doctor Stories


Picador USA

Place Published

New York



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