“The Invented Part” by Rodrigo Fresán [Why This Book Should Win]
Between now and the announcement of the BTBA finalists on May 15th, we’ll be highlighting all 37 longlisted books in a series we call “Why This Book Should Win.” The first post is from BTBA judge and Ebenezer Books bookseller P.T. Smith.
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán, translated from the Spanish by Will Vanderhyden (Argentina, Open Letter Books)
In an earlier post, about Remains of Life, I asked “Why continue?” I tried to understand why I keep on reading even when I’m not sure what to make of a book, if I’m not sure I think it is good enough to keep reading. My final answer, shown by its presence on the longlist, is that sometimes that book sticks with you for a long time, and you admire it more and more in retrospect. I’m not here to write about Remains of Life though. I have another question, one that leads me to another book.
Why read? The earliest answer in my life was “I enjoy it.” As a kid, Jim Kjelgaard was my favorite author. I had no friends to talk to him about, I didn’t think about what I learned reading them, didn’t think about their affect on me or my brain. His books tell the story of a boy, his dog, and adventure. Those three things brought me joy. As an up-his-own-ass high school and college kid, I came up with reason after reason other than “I enjoy it” to read. All were some version of trying to be better, smarter, more worthy. Thankfully, some professors taught a course called Textual Pleasure, and I’ve never again forgotten to read for pleasure. A more intricate pleasure, deeper one than boy, dog, adventure, but pleasure all the same. Seeking to understand what exactly brings the feeling can itself be a pleasure.
I have no memory of the last time I had a reading experience as pleasurable as reading Rodrigo Fresán’s The Invented Part in Will Vanderhyden’s translation. That pleasure has remained, infecting my life and how I think (I’m writing this while listening to The Kinks, a band I have no connection to, but they’re scattered in The Invented Part, so why not, and I’m having a blast). A few friends have said that The Invented Part broke reading for them, as in nothing else compares, so the gap in pleasure leaves them cold while they make their way through another book. It’s the opposite for me.
For the first time in my life, reading had become a nearly entirely anhedonic experience for me. For a year, longer, I had been falling deeper towards this. First I found pleasure in a book, but longed for how it would have made me feel some time ago. Then I couldn’t sit and read for as long a time as I used to. I began to not look forward to picking up a new book. Eventually, I could hardly read at all. I’d put the words in my eyeballs for however long I could manage. I would read sentences that I recognized I should appreciate, should send some of those tingles down my spine or spark something in my neurons. But nothing came. It was a loss of sense of self.
Then I came The Invented Part. I felt pleasure, joy, excitement, and I laughed. My brain was on fire and my spine tingling. I read almost two hundred pages in a sitting, the first time I’d done that in memory. I was reading something new. The novel is full of excitement and love, for its characters, for music, for other books, for reading, for the experience of art and life, for culture high, low, and middle. Fresán seeks all of that out, and pulls it together brilliantly. He does things I didn’t know the novel could do, but without it being a purposeful gesture, a thing that calls attention to itself. It’s naturally new, this novel couldn’t exist any other way, but before it did, I couldn’t imagine it.
It is everything. It’s heady and complex. Its sentences are beautiful. It’s weird as all hell and realism doesn’t matter. Its characters are full and real and you care deeply for them. It can make you laugh and it can break your heart (I tried to construct a better version of “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry” because fuck you it’s true). I’m not going to pitch a plot because it’s complicated and fragmented and sort of plotless but you’ll also be hooked by whatever story it’s telling at the moment. It’s clever and snarky and mocks. It is utterly sincere. It is generous. It is welcoming. Will Vanderhyden understands all of this about the book and captures all of it. Thank the gods he’s going to be bringing us the next two in this trilogy. There’s little I want more from this life.
When I finished, I could read again. Nothing has compared, but that’s okay. They don’t have to. Books are my love. So reading is sex? Not every time you have sex with your love will be the best sex you ever have. That’s okay. It’s still going to be pleasure, and there’ll be little specifics, shades of it you appreciate. You just treasure those times that were amongst the best. That’s what other books are for. The Invented Part was the most pleasure I’ve had reading in five years, longer maybe. It’s the best book I’ve read in that time. I don’t say these things lightly. I hate the hyperbole of language around books. I don’t know any other way to talk about this one.