Latest Review: "Dinner" by César Aira

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Lori Feathers on Dinner by César Aira, translated by Katherine Silver and out from New Directions.

The first time I read César Aira was four years ago: Ghosts and The Literary Conference. At the time I had my opinions about both, but in retrospect—and this surprises me—I actually liked both books very much (four years ago I had a lot of issues with Ghosts, but I was also sleeping erratic, graduate student hours and living off of discounted Cliff Bars and anything cheap vegetable you could sauté and roll into a tortilla, so let’s just assume that I didn’t have enough nutrients in my body to understand). And to be honest, I was half way through Lori’s review, thinking, “What the hell kind of book is this?!”, and then my eyes jumped to the top of the page to double-check who the author was. It was Aira. Which, of course! Of course. Now this all makes sense. I think that’s a great way to remind yourself of certain authors (note: I don’t say to think of certain authors). For example, Chuck Palahnuik’s writing is weird, disturbing, fast-paced, and will probably give you meat-sweats within your nightmares. Aira, as another example, has a quirkiness to his content (sometimes aggressively so, other times very understatedly) that, years later, makes me think fondly on his works, and on the subsequent discussions we had in class about his works. Which (making a huge but relevant jump here) is more proof that literature is a gift that keeps on giving. And I’m glad to have Aira’s works in my memory bank for that purpose. I’m also glad to continually have more Aira to experience—so thank you both to our friends at New Directions for that, and to super-translator Katherine Silver for her excellent work.

Here’s the beginning of Lori’s review:

César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with his mother in his childhood home, in debt, jobless, never married, overly critical of others—who somehow still manages to win our affection with his wry pathos.

The dinner of the novella’s title is at the home of the narrator’s unnamed friend (“the last friend I had”) where the narrator and his elderly mother are the only guests. The friend keeps Mama entertained during dinner with gossipy stories about the families in the town of Pringles, and the two are “perfectly in sync” with their back-and-forth name-dropping. The narrator does not participate in their exchange. He has never attempted to remember the names of Pringles’ residents and considers such refusal his “. . . way of rejecting the life of the town where I had, nonetheless, spent my entire life. . . .” The evening takes a creepy turn after the meal when the friend shows-off some of the mechanical dolls and other fantastical toys that he collects. The dim lighting in the friend’s home, along with the dolls’ strange, mechanical movements and disturbing countenances bring an unsettling ambience to the evening’s end.

For the rest of the review, go here

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