I always felt that some of the most imaginary fiction has come out of Latin America and this is no exception for some of the current generation of authors from our neighbors to the south. Valeria Luiselli - from Mexico - is no exception and her debut novel Faces In The Crowd is a hell of an achievement.
Written in a series of vignettes (which remind me a lot of the Lebanese author Rabih Alameddine) the novel is at once an exploration into creativity, a meta-metafictional exercise, a love letter to poetry and literature, an exploration into personal and emotional disintegration and a playful but brilliant experiment in narrative, taking The Novel into very interesting places. The story involves the Mexican poet Gilberto Owen as he reflects on his life in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance, hanging out with Federico Garcia Lorca - when he was in New York as well - and a host of other poets and writers during that time. The parallel narrative is that of a single mother living in Mexico City, reflecting on her time in New York City as a translator, trying to get her publisher boss to publish a book of poetry by Gilberto Owen, as well as her life in Philadelphia (or is it that of Gilberto Owen, who died there in the 1950s?) and how she became obsessed with the Mexican poet in the first place. She is also writing a novel about Owen, which appears in “real time”, the process, ideas, and struggle to bring it to life. Gilberto Owen is also working on a novel. The two narratives eventually blend and - in a move which reminds me much of Julio Cortazar - the line between the two narratives becomes erased, leaving the reader to wonder whether or not this is the single mother dreaming of Owen or Owen dreaming of the single mother.
Or is it dreaming at all? There are numerous references to “ghosts” - ghosts of the past - where one leaves themselves permanently behind, still living side by side with those of the present, bumping into each other in very strange and surreal ways. Could this be a metaphor for influences and how the artists of the past still inform the artists of the present, or is it perhaps the lives of those who went before us continuing on in perpetuity, always with the chance of bumping up against one another as we go through our daily lives and struggles? The touch of surrealism is brilliant and common among Latin American literature and Luiselli handles it brilliantly. Truly one of the more imaginative novels that has come out in the past decade or so. Highly recommended. I can’t wait to see what else Luiselli has in store.