I finished Salvador Plascencia’s fascinating first novel, The People of Paper, last night and have been carrying it around in my head all day.
It is almost too much of a cliche to say, but this is a very very McSweeney’s novel: typographically innovative, vaguely and sometimes not-so-vaguely magical realist, ironic yet also filled with bottomless emo heartache, a sort of inverted metafiction where the flouting of convention is meant not to reveal the artificiality of literary convention as such but to expose the raw nerve of the real (read: bottomless emo heartache) to daylight, a kind of post-postmodern sublimation of Suffering into Wonder.
I am having a dissonant reaction to the book.
First, the writing is absolutely fantastic: well-crafted sentence after sentence, totally sustained and focused over 240 pages, though these terrific sentences all in the end are rendered in the same style, beautiful, yes, but cover to cover Plascencia. I did also enjoy the metafictional conceits: El Monte’s war against Saturn was pretty amusing at times, a physical rendering on the page of what Alex Woloch has described as “character space.” I adored Baby Nostradamus, about whom the less said, the better. See for yourself.
And yet, and yet.
Narrative threads pop up and disappear without much explanation. I do not unduly give away any spoilers to say that Merced de Papel, whom given the title of the novel you would expect to be quite central to its “plot,” is done away with rather suddenly and seems overall to amount to an extended joke. See the paper person accidentally burning herself!, giving paper cuts to men who go down on her!, etc.! She does not, in my view, rise above the sum of her gag appearances, which is unfortunate.
Whatever my reservations about the book, however, I’ve begun to think about writing a chapter on PoP when I turn my dissertation into a book–in that oh-so-mythical well-nigh-magic-realist future–perhaps in conjunction with Junot Diaz’s Oscar Wao or Sesshu Foster’s Atomic Aztex.