A man with amnesia and $20 million, a well-read venture capitalist adrift after a hot deal, and two drug lord gunmen combine to perform a time-twisting minuet in this big, brainy, trippy, Technicolor noir of a debut.
Take Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace at their densest, some Malcolm Lowry–esque south-of-the-border malevolence and lots of technobabble, financial arcana, and myriad ad hoc drivel sessions—that may start to suggest what Gauer is up to here. The core story is simple, but he breaks it up and reassembles it with two narrative voices, assorted time jumps, a cool shift in point of view, and a compulsion to spin out every basic element across dozens of pages while exploring the outré entries of the English lexicon. It begins with a man waking up in a Guanajuato, Mexico, hotel. He has a bump on his head and no memory of his identity. His wallet tells him he bears the same name as a pseudonym of the early-20th-century Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (Gauer is a poet and, not incidentally, a venture capitalist). A local banker tells him he has almost $20 million in his account. When the narrative—covering the week of April 13 to 20 in 2009—shifts to the gunmen, they are assigned by their Shakespeare-quoting boss (“Guy’s like two-thirds Money, one-third Thesaurus”) to comb through El Paso and Juarez for a guy who has a lot of the boss’s money, part of a laundering operation that also somehow entails the VC’s latest hot and dubious deal. It’s only when the VC flies to El Paso and embarks on a phantasmagoric road trip south that key players and plot points begin to coalesce. The closing pages include one horrific scene that unfortunately is later replayed and an epic Mexican standoff that more or less starts with a man citing Ovid, Schopenhauer, and Heidegger within six lines.
There’s a lot of verbal and postmodern high jinks in these 700-plus pages, and they will likely strain anyone’s patience and commitment, but for readers who enjoy this kind of thing, it will be worth the effort.