on Valeria Luiselli’s novel The Story of My Teeth

Christina MacSweeney, translator and collaborator. (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2015).

An insouciant blend of Gogol, Calvino, and the metaphysical conundrums of linguistic sign-theory, this novel is one of the funniest books I’ve read in ages—in part because it’s so deadpan and, in the end, as you might have guessed, so sad. Did you know that Mexico City has a street named Disneylandia? It does, and this tale takes us there. Most fiction labors too heavily to pass as Real. This fabrication convinces because it makes the Real utterly strange—a sparkler entrancing us until it goes out and reveals we’re in darkness.

The tale’s hero-victim and consummate con-man: Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, known as Highway. Here below are two brief samples, the first in Highway’s voice, the second in the voice of a young writer who ghost-writes Highway’s “autobiography” after his death. Except that then I guess the “voice” in the first is not only Highway’s but the writer’s too. It’s a mystery.

“This is the story of my teeth, and my treatise on collectibles and the variable value of objects. As any other story, this one begins with the Beginning; and then comes the Middle, and then the End. The rest, as a friend of mine always says, is literature: hyperbolics, parabolics, circulars, allegorics, and elliptics. I don’t know what comes after that. Possibly ignominy, death, and, finally, postmortem fame. …Some have luck, some have charisma. I’ve got a bit of both.” (5)

“Highway died in the Buenos Días Motel, next door to the bar, in the company of three gorgeous ladies after conducting an allegoric auction that finished, as an encore, with an imitation of Janis Joplin singing “Mercedes Benz.” I received a call from the concierge the morning of his death and immediately went over there with El Perro. We honored his last request and scattered his ashes at the feel of the fiberglass dinosaurs in the median strip of a street in Pachuca, the Beautiful Windy City [in Mexico]…” (158).

Peter’s note: yes, those dino statues exist; they’re in El Dinoparque de Pachuca, Hidalgo. View it on YouTube here.

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