Friday, December 12, 2014

Review: Conversations

Conversations by C├ęsar Aira

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lovely and totally, obviously, unexpectedly pretentious. I don’t mean that as a criticism, but it’s just something that needs to be said (at least to me since I’d just read THE LITERARY CONFERENCE which is more absurd than pretentious).

Anyway. Who cares about all that. This is a great great read. Even the book description -- which promises a somewhat metafictional absurdity -- seems to be part of the book’s core game/question: if we know something is fiction how much does realism matter? (I won’t spoil anything, but don’t expect the crazy climax the New Directions Paperback edition summary suggests is waiting for you in these pages.)

Like a great lecture, this is a story that explores, twists and tumbles around and is best enjoyed in 1 sitting so that all the various ideas can be held aloft and please one’s mind.

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Review: Quesadillas

Quesadillas by Juan Pablo Villalobos

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

one of the funniest and craziest books I’ve ever read. The feeling you get when you know you’re being told a story by an author who will do anything -- not because they are out of control, but because they have a head full of great ideas and a character that’s willing to act and observe and suffer and just accept the unreality of it all.

Aside from quesadillas, alien abduction conspiracies, class conflict, and sibling rivalry (usually for said quesadillas), there’s cow insemination, political shenanigans, outrage, parental woe and more. The novel never loses sight of the critique of exploitation as practiced by the unreal (but sadly very real) government and social class systems at work in Mexico, but it also never falls all over itself to become maudlin. It’s a serious book that makes you laugh even though it could make you cry.

Some specifically great moments:

A great passage, where Orestes, the narrator, learns how to play Space Invaders on Atari at his rich neighbors house. He’s befuddled by the game because it did exactly what one told it to do via the joystick & button.

He concludes:
"The world was ruled by a band of incredibly dull Aristotelians. I didn’t understand where the fun was other than in verifying that the device always did what you told it to. Was it the paradox of having invented a contraption whose fantasies served to verify the rules of reality?”

Orestes also is obsessed with confirming that his family is actually poor. “I asked [my father] if we were poor or middle class. He said that money didn’t matter, that what mattered was dignity. That confirmed it: we were poor.”

Later when he tells his older brother Aristotle (yes, the father is obsessed with Greek names) that they were poor, Aristotle dismisses the notion. Orestes comments “My brother didn’t like being poor, but the poverty of the pilgrims all around us didn’t modify our own. At the most it left us classified as the least poor of this group of poor people, which merely proved that one could always be poorer and poorer still: being poor was a bottomless well.”

Later still, when he’s forced to work with his rich neighbor: “There is only one thing worse than a poor man’s pride: the pride of the poor man who has become rich.” ha!

Can’t recommend this enough -- just be ready for anything.

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