A debut novel that never lets readers forget it’s a novel, toying with them on multiple levels.
The Mexican author (whose essay collection, Sidewalks, is being issued concurrently in the U.S.) revels in artifice while constructing a labyrinth where memory meets lies, dead literary figures live again, and the narrative spirals through decades and various voices. Early on, it appears to be written in the voice of a female writer, perhaps an authorial stand-in, with two children (known only as “the boy” and “the baby”) and a husband who keeps reading what his wife has written, wondering what is real and what isn’t. Is she cheating on him? With men, or women, or both? Or is he cheating on her? She works for a New York publisher where her job is to find “books by Latin American writers worth translating or re-issuing.” A book such as this one, perhaps. In the process, she becomes involved in the translation of an obscure poet (who becomes one of the novel’s narrators), realizing that “the way literary recognition works, at least to a degree [is] it’s all a matter of rumor, a rumor that multiplies like a virus until it becomes a collective affinity.” The female narrative voice eventually alternates with that of her husband, from whom she becomes divorced (or not), and often the only way to tell who is narrating is a reference to the other. The results are fragmentary, funny, sexy, exasperating and perhaps post-postmodern, as the novel attempts to illuminate how to read a novel, or at least this one. “A horizontal novel, told vertically,” it informs. “A novel that has to be told from the outside to be read from within.” Though, later, it’s a “vertical novel told horizontally. A story that has to be seen from below, like Manhattan from the subway.”
Ultimately, a novel that is no more (or less) than words on the page.