14 June 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Delayed for a couple weeks due to travel and work schedules, Chad and Tom are back to talk about the inaugural Albertine Prize (won by Antoine Volodine’s Bardo or Not Bardo, translated by J. T. Mahany), Houellebecq’s no show, and BookExpo and the forthcoming New York Rights Fair. They also talk a bit about the Two Month Review—the new subpodcast you can find in this same feed—and Tom’s forthcoming appearance on the show. There’s also witty banter galore, a bit of NBA Finals talk, and more!

This week’s music is Unicorn Tolerance by The Mountain Goats.

As always, feel free to send any and all comments or questions to: threepercentpodcast@gmail.com. Also, if there are articles you’d like us to read and analyze (or just make fun of), send those along as well.

And if you like the podcast, tell a friend and rate us or leave a review on iTunes!

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13 June 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Today’s Two Month Review post is a bit unusual. What you’ll find below is the working list of cultural allusions that Jeremy Garber found while preparing for the podcast that he was on. Creating a list of all the allusions found in the entire book is probably too much for any single person to construct, so if you identify anything in the book that should be added, just send it my way.

For ease in identifying what Jeremy found (in the first chapter), I’ve just listed everything alphabetically by title or author, depending. This is probably not terribly helpful; it is likely impossible to catalog all the references Fresán has in this novel. That all said, if you want to add to this list, just email me at chad.post [at] rochester.edu and I can keep dropping things onto this post as the Two Month Review goes along.

But, for now:

Challenger explosion
Dante, Inferno
Donald Duck
Edward Bulwery-Lytton, Paul Clifford
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night
King Kong
La garoupe
Lex Luthor
Mickey Mouse
Miss Universe
Patty Hamburgers & Maggi mashed potatoes
“Penelope,” Joan Manuel Serrat
Sarah & Gerald Murphy
Saul Bellow, Herzog
Shakespeare, Hamlet
Shakespeare, Henry V
Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
Shakespeare, Macbeth
Sugus (candy)
Toy Story
Wil E. Coyote

12 June 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

On last Thursday’s Two Month Review podcast we covered the opening to the second section of The Invented Part, and coming up later this week we’ll be covering pages 99-207—the second section of “The Place Where the Sea Ends So the Forest Can Begin.” As a bit of preparation, below you’ll find some initial thoughts, observations, and quotes.

You can also download this post as a PDF document.

As always, you can get The Invented Part for 20% from our website by using the code 2MONTH. It’s also available at better bookstores everywhere.

And be sure to join the Goodreads group and subscribe to the Three Percent Podcast on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Last week I was at the New Directions party for BookExpo and ran into a reviewer who has been reading The Invented Part. He’s greatly enjoying the novel so far, but thought that this particular section—focusing on Penelope’s interactions with the Karmas—would be the most off-putting to average readers.

At first, I was sort of taken aback. This section? The one with the most tragi-romantic plot? The funniest section so far? The one that takes potshots at the sort of rich and awful and awfully rich family we all love to hate? The one with the glowing green cow? This one’s the most difficult?

Short of Finnegans Wake, I don’t like to think of books as being “difficult.” I think that certain types of books subvert existing expectations about what fiction can—and should—do, and that that gives some people fits. When you’re used to getting a certain type of information in a certain way, with a certain sort of end goal in mind (narrative closure, the answer to the mystery laid bare, happiness), books that provide different info in unexpected ways might well frustrate you. They can be “hard to figure out.” In other words: not all readers like weird shit.

This could turn into a long post about style, altering reader expectations, books that teach you how to approach them, and other differences between novels obsessed with plot and those that focus on form. But instead, I just want to go over some of the aspects that complicate this section of Fresán’s novel.

1) What’s Up with the Two Narrators?

One of the first things a reader will notice about this section is that it’s written in two different fonts (Times New Roman and American Typewriter) that seem to represent two different narrators. They both advance Penelope’s story at different times, but for the most part, Typeface #1 (Times New Roman) provides the bones of her story (falls in love, husband ends up in a drug-induced coma on their wedding night, she has to go live with his crazy family, from which she eventually escapes) and Typeface #2 gives additional commentary, like the color man on a sports broadcast.

[Typeface #2 starts after the asterisk.]

Not long now, just a little while, all landing is inevitable, and Penelope’s ears are covered, and, in back of the aircraft, watched over by a doctor and nurse, her husband breathes mechanically, deep in a coma for two weeks now. * The story, of course, doesn’t begin here. But this is a good starting point, as good as opening—like in those black and white films of Hollywood’s golden age—with a map filling the whole screen and, across it, a line that draws itself from one point to another. And, like in those same movies, lines of text rising from the bottom of the screen and climbing, like a sunrise, to the highest point, explaining everything that happened before, a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. But all at the same time, as if all times were the same time. Backward and forward and up and down and, also, to the right and the left and at oblique and sharp and steeply ascending and descending angles. A lot like the tumbling, head-over-heels deluge of speech that spews forth after drinking multiple liters of truth serum, but, also, like the panoramic and encompassing way the gods think, leisurely reflecting on a landscape where past and present and future occur simultaneously. “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” Who said that? Francis Scott Fitzgerald?

This is a fairly unusual strategy, and one that takes a little while to adjust to, mostly because

2) Who Is the Second Voice?

There are a lot of hints in here that this second voice—the American Typewriter typeface—is The Writer, Penelope’s brother:

[Typeface #2 starts after the asterisk.]

Sing, O goddess, the wrath of Penelope. A ruinous wrath that caused her family countless sorrows; but that was, it seems, of great inspiration to her brother, who’s now more particular than ever. A brother transformed into particles, courtesy of the God particle and now, all of him, stardust, blowin’ in the wind, floating here and there and everywhere, high above in the Big Sky looking down at this little Earth. * And like the dysfunctions in satellites provoked by hysterical solar storms, he appears, without warning, like those parentheticals directing a histrionic and operatic ghost to enter and exit the most innocent of crime scenes. Lo, here he is, incorporeal yet omnipresent, interfering and interceding and—sheltered by the alibi of le mot juste and all that—obsessively repeating ideas and judgments. Projecting himself like the loop of a video that no search engine can locate to download and edit; a video from a security camera where he enters the frame and, after overpowering a fragile scientist, shuts the door and, alone and inside a laboratory, as everyone first orders and then begs him not to, presses a button so that everything, including him, is set in motion and spins and spins and spins until it provokes a nauseating vertigo behind the eyes. Being a nuisance, yes. [. . .] Nothing more and nothing less than that instant, suspended between nothing and everything when a writer spends an eternity of seconds thinking of what he’ll subsequently put down in writing. A map of unfathomable distance separating the measures of the cerebral score from the arrival of the fingers to the goal of the keyboard. Coming out of the same body but from a different source, in a different font. And, to state the obvious, that font is American Typewriter, right?; because that was the script on his first typewriter. And because Penelope’s brother was (is?) a writer, always, with a particular and often criticized interest in American literature, and over and out for a while and . . .

Based on that little bit, it’s possible to read these two voices as both coming from The Writer. Maybe Typeface #1 is his original attempt to write out Penelope’s story, and Typeface #2 is his voice from wherever he is now. Which bring us to

3) What Happened to The Writer?

We more or less lay reference to this in the jacket copy, but sticking to the part of the book that we’ve read so far, this is the closest we’ve gotten to an explanation:

[All from Typeface #2.]

Here, again, he feels the temptation to modify and literarily enhance that hospital Penelope was moving through with the description of a different hospital. A hospital in the city of B where, later, he’d go with an emergency, a red pain biting his chest at the height of his heart. And going even further: to add additional details about the laboratory/accelerator near Geneva where he’d be transformed into what he is now. [. . .] And here he follows her, her brother, who, not dead but yes disappeared, part of the air and everywhere, watches her not on a TV screen of the netherworld, but as if he were reading her; as if she were a character in a book, that book he never managed to write but that he can’t stop thinking about or wondering about or playing with sometimes complex and sometimes not so complex possible choices, like the one that a flight attendant with the enigmatic smile of a sphinx presents Penelope with now: “Beef, chicken, fish, or pasta?,” she asks.

That more or less clarifies everything, no?

4) Is This Magical Realism?

Of the sections we’ve read so far, this is definitely the one that strays the furthest from so-called “realism.” There are the allusions to the author as a disembodied voice commenting on and editing the story, possibly from some ethereal beyond, and then, if that weren’t enough, we get this:

And her most recent “achievement” (because Hiriz’s disasters, somehow, end up being flexible conversations at tense dinner tables) has had something to do with her thinking that she can develop a special food for cattle. A diet that, she swears, would make them bigger and more productive. It makes no difference that Hiriz knows nothing about cows, or bulls, or about what they eat, or even what they are for and what they do. Hiriz invested “a little funds, a little savings” in a hundred head of cattle (Penelope hears about this on the way from the airport to Mount Karma, Mamagrandma’s matriarchal mansion) and created, all on her own, a race of colossal mutant bovines the color of emerald fluoride. A fierce and anabolic breed that reproduce at a vertiginous rate and have developed an insatiable carnivorous appetite, prompting them to laughter each other with raw bites and eat each other in a revelry of bovine cannibalism.

Giant green cannibalistic cows. Like the narrators say at the beginning, “Fasten your seatbelts. Turbulence. Deploy the landing gear. Flaps down. * Here we go.”

5) What’s Up with the William Burroughs Stuff?

So, in the middle of this section, amid discussions of—and jokes about—the Karma Family, there’s a long expository bit about William Burroughs’s time in Mexico with Jean Vollmer, including a description of the fateful night when Burroughs shot and killed her. This digression is sparked by the performance of Lina, Penelope’s one friend in Karma Land:

On the stage, with a red hole in the side of her head, Lina is sitting in front of a TV that broadcasts nothing. Lina is Joan Vollmer, sitting in front of a TV, broadcasting her death and life from the depths of the pre-Columbian netherworld. In the body and voice of Lina, Joan Vollmer is hating on the beatniks and refusing to resign herself to be a minor member in the body of the beat.

Typeface #2 immediately comments on this performance:

Lina isn’t doing justice to the person that Joan Vollmer was and the character that she could be. Joan Vollmer as a sort of Megamix, where parts of Penelope and parts of Hiriz and parts of Lina mix together: the fury of the centuries, the eternal dissatisfaction, the artistic temperament that’s nothing but a single, unrelenting bad mood, functioning as a kind of tormented manifesto of aesthetics and ethics. Joan Vollmer as the universal woman (this really does seem to him to be Lina’s great idea, an idea that he’ll guiltlessly rob) and goddess of the afterlife watching over everything, her face illuminated by the cold phosphorescence of a screen that tunes in a single channel, broadcast from a celestial and ancient and circular hell.

If Fitzgerald and Tender Is the Night is the spirit hovering over the first section of the book (“A Real Character”) and part of the second, Burroughs is the one that takes over the second. I see this whole part (pages 97-207) as the Beat Section. In terms of style, this section is much more free-flowing than the earlier ones, filled with jazzy riffs, all running on for page after page, em-dash after digressive em-dash, in basically one long paragraph that can occasionally feel like a processing of the raw materials of art. As if the first narrator is just getting down all the main points, the bulk of the story, and the second narrator is reworking it, molding it, adding in the appropriate facts (“Or because the protagonist in one of her brother’s favorite books was also the son of a comatose father and a restless mother and that book was called . . . * The World According to Garp [1978] by John Irving.) or pulling new observations out of the initial material.

All of these various elements—the dual narrators, the addition of more non-realistic elements, the essayistic bit on Burroughs, the way the whole section sort of provides a reworking-in-progress of the main story—all set this section apart and force the reader to readjust. (The first of many readjustments, to be honest.) But everyone reading this should remember that this section also contains a lot of fun. The Karma bits are wild—Mamagrandma always riding her horse!—and hilarious, and too recognizable. It’s a long tale of Penelope that has all the aspects of a great story—love, tragedy, humor, a miracle ending . . .

In closing, there is one quote from this section that sticks with me, though, that’s less fun, and more ominous:

And one thing is certain, undeniable: you must be very careful of the spirits you invoke for the love of art, the ugly spirits, the malignant spirits always given to poetic justice and tragedy. It’s not good to mess with the reality of the dead. Rewriting their reality is like playing with a loaded gun.

8 June 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week, author and journalist Mark Binelli joins Chad and Brian to discuss the first part of the second section of Rodrigo Fresán’s The Invented Part. In “The Place Where the Seas Ends So the Forest Can Begin,” we meet The Young Man and The Young Woman, who are making a movie about The Writer after his disappearance/death/whatever. From discussion of “irreal realism” to writing classes to the idea of a sitcom about writers, this week’s discussion delights in The Writer’s ideas about writing and reading, and the hints this chapter contains about the rest of the book.

Feel free to comment on this episode—or on the book in general—either on this post, or at the official GoodReads Group.

The Invented Part is avaialble at better bookstores everywhere, including from Open Letter directly, where you can get 20% off by entering 2MONTH in the discount field at checkout.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, Brian Wood, and Mark Binelli on Twitter for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests.

Also, click here to read the profile of Al Franken that Mark wrote for the new issue of Rolling Stone.

And you can find all Two Month Review posts by clicking here.

The music for the first season of Two Month Review is Big Sky by The Kinks.

And for those interested, here’s Joan Manuel Serrat’s Penelope.

If you don’t already subscribe to Two Month Review/Three Percent Podcast you can find us on iTunes, Stitcher, and other places. Or you can always subscribe by adding our feed directly into your favorite podcast app: http://threepercent.libsyn.com/rss

7 June 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

You can read the first part of this interview here, and you can click here for all Two Month Review posts.

Special thanks to Will Vanderhyden for conducting—and translating—this interview.

Will Vanderhyden: Now, this is a question that, in a way, the book takes as its point of departure—so it might make a good segue into talking about to what extent The Invented Part is autobiographical, to what extent the book’s primary narrator, The Writer, is you—but: what made you want to be a writer? Or, to put it another way: how and why did you end up pursuing a career/vocation as a writer? And: how is the reality of that story different from The Writer’s origin story in the book?

Rodrigo Fresán: It isn’t autobiographical, but it is the most personal in certain respects. In ways that have more to do with what I have written than what I have lived, in the sense that it is about how a writer, who is also me, thinks. In other words: I don’t have a mad sister, but I do have a very sensible son; my parents weren’t killed during the military dictatorship of the ‘70s-80s, but we did have to flee the country and barely made it out (the most precise version of that story is told at the end of Historia argentina, my first book). In terms of what it was that made me into a writer, I don’t have a precise memory of that. I always wanted to be one. Even before I learned to read and write. That’s why, in The Invented Part, I invented en epiphanic instant in the life of the book’s narrator when his writerly-vocation is activated after he almost drowns . . . As far as I’m concerned, I have always considered it a great privilege and gift to get to live and not have to betray my childhood dream of what I wanted to be when I “grew up.” Not many people get to keep and concretize that. But maybe, yes, it’s all linked to my own almost-death: I was born and declared clinically dead. I had a very complicated birth. And, mysteriously and miraculously, I came back from the other side. I lived to tell the tale. To tell it and to write it.

WV: In The Invented Part, you explore the relationship between disastrous moments in the lives of certain famous artists—F. Scott Fitzgerald and his relationships with Zelda Sayre, Ernest Hemmingway, and Sara and Gerald Murphy; William S. Burroughs and the killing of his wife Joan Vollmer; the members of Pink Floyd and the loss of their original band mate Syd Barrett—and the famous works of art that emerged from the wreckage. How do these famous instances of the confluence of life and art parallel The Writer’s own situation and inform the decisions he makes in the book?

RF: I wouldn’t say they inform any of his decisions (his decisions are, in general, bad when not catastrophic), but they do function as talismans for him or as the floating remains of a shipwreck that he can cling to. Also, clearly, he thinks about them to not think about himself and a body of work (his own) that would be hard pressed to ever reach those heights. And there’s an additional application of these geniuses and figures (like the figures of Bob Dylan, the Brontë sisters, and Vladimir Nabokov in the next “installment” of the monster) all of them have something in common: they were consummate (and some consumed) rewriters of themselves.

WV: This will likely be clear to anybody who has read the book, but can you talk about where the title, The Invented Part, came from?

RF: It’s from a letter that Gerald Murphy sent to Francis Scott Fitzgerald. I had already used it as an epigraph in Historia argentina and . . . we can agree that it makes a great title and it was always a mystery to me that nobody had used it. “I know now that what you said in Tender Is the Night is true. Only the invented part of our life—the unreal part—has had any scheme, any beauty,” writes Murphy, who—along with his wife Sara—had been upset by how, without consulting them, Fitzgerald had used their marriage as the point of departure for his second great novel.

WV: The Invented Part, like many of your books, has a triptych or three-act structure, with the long middle section divided into five subsections. Although there is a narrative arc that develops in a quasi-linear way throughout the book, there is also the sense that all seven parts are happening simultaneously: they overlap, riff off each other, and sometimes tell different versions of the same events. Where did this structure come from? To what extent was it planned and to what extent improvised? How was it written? Did you start at the beginning and write through to the end or was the final structure something that you came to later on?

RF: I always think in trios, triads, triptychs, triangles. I fear that it has to do with the influence resulting from very early exposure to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” Once I said that I write the way The Beatles recorded and it was misinterpreted in the sense that I was accused of considering myself as great as The Beatles. Well, no . . . The truth is, I said what I said thinking more about George Martin (The Beatles producer) than about The Beatles. Anyway, the headline was misinterpreted. People today just read headlines and feel compelled to retweet them right away without reading the entire interview. I wasn’t saying that I write with the same degree of genius and talent that The Beatles had, not at all. I was saying, and I explained this in the interview, that after reading a memoir by Geoff Emerick, The Beatles’ sound engineer, the thing about equalizing and utilizing different channels on the sound mixer ended up having a great deal to do with the way I wrote The Invented Part, whose seven parts I wrote simultaneously. I had seven files open, and I worked on a different one each day. And, at the same time, I didn’t really know where that novel was going, until my son provided me with the key, the little toy figure that appears on the cover of the original edition, which has now become a kind of little literary icon . . . I was bogged down. I had spent years writing a novel, I knew what I wanted to say, I even had a plan, but it wasn’t coming together. I was stuck in uncertainty, I had five hundred pages of nothing, and then my son, Daniel, who was five years old at the time, told me he had found the cover for my next book. We saw it in the window of a stationary shop on the way to his school. It was a windup toy: a traveler wearing a raincoat and hat, carrying a big suitcase. We bought it. “I want him to be the hero too,” Daniel said. I ended up discarding that last idea, but I hung onto the toy. And that’s when it happened: it was as if I’d been wound up and set in motion and I didn’t stop until I got to the end.

WV: In this book and elsewhere you tell an anecdote about a conversation you had with the Irish writer John Banville in which you ask him what is more important, plot or style, and he responds by saying: “Style goes on ahead giving triumphal leaps while the plot follows along behind dragging its feet.” Can you talk about this idea and how it relates to your work?

RF: What Banville said seems to me a great sentence. And a great truth. And it was a great privilege to be there and hear him say it. But in The Invented Part, I reproduce it and, I hope, politely and respectfully add to it. I’ll cite here what I say in the novel: “Later he wondered whether it might not be possible for style to go back a few steps and lovingly lift the plot up in its arms, as if it were a brilliant and complicated child, and turn it into something new, different: into a stylistic plot, into the most well-plotted of styles.” In my life as a reader, the truth is that it’s harder and harder for me to read anybody who doesn’t rely on style.

Come back on June 21st for the third part of this interview, and in the meantime, be sure to check out the podcast and other Two Month Review posts!

5 June 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

On last Thursday’s Two Month Review podcast we covered the first forty-five pages of The Invented Part, and coming up later this week we’ll be covering pages 46-98—the first section of “The Place Where the Sea Ends So the Forest Can Begin.” As a bit of preparation, below you’ll find some initial thoughts, observations, and quotes.

You can also download this post as a PDF document.

As always, you can get The Invented Part for 20% from our website by using the code 2MONTH. It’s also available at better bookstores everywhere.

And be sure to join the Goodreads group and subscribe to the Three Percent Podcast on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Even though it’s not directly related to what I want to focus on in the first section of the second part of The Invented Part (pages 46-98 of “The Place Where the Sea Ends So the Forest Can Begin”), I just have to point out this passage, which sort of hits close to home . . . It’s one of The Writer’s statements about literature that The Young Man and The Young Woman have been gathering:

“My surprise at how, all the time, less of what’s written outside the country is read inside it and that it’s only read when that foreign writer is published by a small local publisher and thus ‘discovered’ by some local critic or academic, no matter that the book has already been circulating there for years. As if foreign writing is only worthy of consideration after being appropriated and nationalized. And, sometimes, there are even discussions that establish absurd connections and comparisons—convinced to the point of fanaticism, insisting on impossible chronological influences of something written there on something written here—with some national writer, more a sect writer than a cult writer. Someone, generally, already conveniently and comfortably dead, and hence possible to manipulate. Someone who, no doubt, neither read nor knew of that generally far-superior foreign writer.”


But what I really want to start with are two other quotes from The Writer about the process of writing itself. Or, more to the point, the way in which writing represents reality.

Writing is a discipline that becomes more difficult every day. It’s like what happens with a camera lens. Or with the human eye. At first, everything appears upside down, head down, feet up. And it’s the machine and the brain that take charge of straightening it, righting it, and giving it some logical meaning. But it’s a deceptive meaning. An illusion. And so, at any moment, everything can come crashing down and expose the deception in all its clumsy obviousness.


Literature doesn’t serve reality. That’s why it’s fiction . . . But let’s get back to the idea of realism. To that whole fallacy of literature as reality’s faithful mirror . . . A lie, impossible. Reality doesn’t function like it does in supposedly realist books, it doesn’t respect such dramatic pacing, neat sequences of events, one after another in perfect and functional formation . . .

The idea of literature being a mirror of reality—and the corollary that follows about how literature is just an artifice pretending to reflect reality—is an idea that’s been around for essentially ever. Here’s a quote from Stendhal’s Charterhouse of Parma:

A novel is a mirror carried along a high road. At one moment it reflects to your vision the azure skies, at another the mire of the puddles at your feet. And the man who carries this mirror in his pack will be accused by you of being immoral! His mirror shews the mire, and you blame the mirror! Rather blame that high road upon which the puddle lies, still more the inspector of roads who allows the water to gather and the puddle to form.

And although it’s not exactly the same, there’s also this bit from Stephan Dedalus in Ulysses (a book that pops up a few times in this particular chapter):

Stephen bent forward and peered at the mirror held out to him, cleft by a crooked crack, hair on end. As he and others see me. [. . .]

Drawing back and pointing, Stephen said with bitterness:

—It is a symbol of Irish art. The cracked lookingglass of a servant.


I don’t want to suggest that Fresán’s approach in this chapter is a simplistic refutation of the idea that fiction should serve as a reflection of reality. The Writer more or less takes that viewpoint apart in his mini-rant about “logical irrealism” as the counterpoint to “magical realism” on page 65. That bit is brilliant—and pretty much defines the sort of books that I like to read—but The Writer isn’t Fresán, or not exactly. He’s a reflection of Fresán, a sort of fun-house mirror version of Fresán, in which Fresán’s more rational, muted views can be exaggerated and over-emphasized. (See the fourth part of the interview we’re running on Three Percent, which is an excerpt from The Dreamed Part in which The Writer unleashes a screed against our screen culture.) I think what Fresán is doing in this section is more subtle and interesting than a straightforward attack on the tenets of neo-realistic literature. Instead of mirroring “reality,” this section essentially reflects the book itself, creating a series of mirrorings, or doublings, that articulate a part of Fresán’s aesthetic approach and create a stronger sense of literary sincerity than a simple “reflection of reality” ever can.

Instead of trying to explain what I mean in some pseudo-academic, well-crafted, persuasive set of arguments, I’m going to resort to a simple list of observations and long quotes.


In the first chapter, we get The Writer’s near-death experience as a child, which serves as the origin, or birth, of all his future ideas. In this chapter, we see The Writer after he’s gone, all of his creations created, his body having left the Earth.


Now, The Young Man inhabits that terrible moment in the life of any writer, any prewriter. A zone without limits where everything seems worthy of being told, everything could end up making a good story, every horse looks at you with those bet-on-me eyes. But it’s all a dreamer’s dream. A desert of deceptive fertility where nothing germinates. Just titles, first sentences, endings, dedications, epigraphs (of which, like in The Writer’s books, there will be, for many people, too many), acknowledgements (which, like in The Writer’s books will be, for most people, too many; but The Young Man has been reconsidering their inclusion ever since The Young Woman told him that, “I don’t believe them, they’re false, they’re acknowliedgements”), and speeches, and even cover designs for editions with various publishers and in various languages.

So many epigraphs and acknowledgments—just like in the book you’re reading . . .


From all those hours and hours recorded in a variety of formats—from celluloid, to video, and even to digitalization for mobile phones and tablets—The Young Man and The Young Woman have selected a handful of what The Writer tended to refer to as “my minimal maxims,” which he repeated again and again throughout his books. So, a curious effect. An audio-visual effect. A kind of slippery passageway between fiction and nonfiction. Like someone who sounds—simultaneously, a twofer, a special offer—like the ventriloquist dummy of a ventriloquist. And The Young Man and The Young Woman are going to toy with it, splicing together similar sentences from different periods (like that timeless and constant and strange addiction to quoting Faulkner, a writer he almost never read), establishing an idea with The Writer looking young and more or less successful and finishing it off with The Writer looking older and more remote and, then, showing that same sentence, almost verbatim, appearing in the mouth and the role of one of his characters.


There’s also the fun aspect of this chapter—which has a lot of visual elements throughout—opening with The Young Man and Young Woman videotaping The Writer’s library, leading to a long series of reflections on the nature of libraries (or liferaries), on their importance, on the reactions people have to them, all ending with the Young Woman proclaiming, in disgust, “Ugh, I hope we don’t open by showing the books and desk and all of that.”


Speaking of the books The Writer is obsessed with, Tender Is the Night fits right in with this general theme, given its two editions that are similar to each other, yet not.


More arcane, but these two excerpts from The Invented Part bring to mind The Bottom of the Sky, another of Fresán’s novels (coming to English readers everywhere in spring 2018!).

The Young Woman talks in her sleep and says strange things, that she repeats the verb “fall” and the place “swimming pool” over and over again. [. . .]

And third, because then she read The Writer. And it’s not that she fell in love with him. But she did fall in love with the character of a woman who went in and out of his books, in different times and circumstances, in different swimming pools and cities and even planets—and that produced in her the irrepressible need to know more, to get a little closer.

Pulling in bits from the rest of Fresán’s oeuvre not only establishes a larger backdrop against which his books play out, but helps to reflect and recontextualize what’s come before.


The very phrase “bottom of the sky” implies a sort of reflection.


One of the more intriguing reflections within this chapter itself is the contrast between The Writer’s “minimal maxims,” which are all reflections on the process of writing or being a writer, and the imaginary writers that The Young Man has created. On the one hand we get the slippery pontifications of what it’s like to write (“So, that’s how I think about the writing of stories and novels. A particular balance of feelings and sound and phrasings and word games.”), and on the other, we get actual creations (“Cash Krugerrand, the literary agent whom everyone derides in public but dreams of having [and being possessed by] in private.”). Creative material versus more dogmatic pronouncements about writing.


One of the things I’m really enjoying about this slow reread of The Invented Part is how there are elements of traditional novels—great characters and characterizations (see the description of the Young Man and Young Woman on pages 58-9), enough of a plot to keep pulling the reader through (we get hints of the future of The Writer, and his interaction with the Young Man, in this part), and sentences and phrases that carry a weight of significance (“That’s why others exist: so that we convince ourselves that, for a while, we can stop thinking about ourselves when really, in that moment, we’re just thinking about what others think of us.”)—while also indulging in more playful, intellectual games that aren’t simply rehashed tricks of 60s metafiction or whatever, but seem to be something new.

I’ll leave off this week with one final quote to that sort of speaks to that:

Look at them: The Young Man and The Young Woman are literary animals. They live to read literature and dream of making a living off of a literature based in reading. And they know that modernism (when anything was possible), postmodernism (when everything had been worn out), and post-postmodernism (when, since everything had been worn out, anything was possible) have already passed. And so, now, they’re waiting for the new thing, for what’s next, for their own moment and the corresponding era that corresponds to them.

1 June 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week, Jeremy Garber from Powells Books joins Chad and Brian to discuss the first section of Rodrigo Fresán’s The Invented Part. This section, entitled “The Real Character,” introduces us to the main character of the book—known here as The Boy, and later as The Writer—as well as some of the major themes of the novel. Wide-ranging and very fun, the discussion touches on The Boy’s epic list of thoughts and ideas (such as “It Jell-O animal, vegetal, mineral, or interplanetary?”), on the two versions of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, Gerald and Sara Murphy, the idea of “the invented part,” turning off our cell phones, and much more.

Next week’s guest will be Mark Binelli (Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die!, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ All-Time Greatest Hits, Detroit City Is the Place to Be), and will cover the first section of the second part of the novel, pages 46-98 of “Place Where the Sea Ends So the Forest Can Begin.”

Feel free to comment on this episode—or on the book in general—either on this post, or at the official GoodReads Group.

The Invented Part is avaialble at better bookstores everywhere, including Powells. You can also get it from Open Letter directly for 20% off. Just enter 2MONTH in the discount field at checkout.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, and Brian Wood on Twitter for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests. (Jeremy is smart and stays off social media entirely.)

And you can find all Two Month Review posts by clicking here.

The music for the first season of Two Month Review is Big Sky by The Kinks.

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31 May 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Here are the first few paragraphs of Rodrigo Fresán’s Kensington Gardens, translated by Natasha Wimmer:

It begins with a boy who was never a man and ends with a man who was never a boy.

Something like that.

Or better: it begins with a man’s suicide and a boy’s death, and ends with a boy’s death and a man’s suicide.

Or with various deaths and various suicides at varying ages.

I’m not sure. It doesn’t matter.

Everybody knows—it’s understandable, excusable—that numbers, names, and faces are the first to be jettisoned or to throw themselves from the platform during the shipwreck of memory, which always lies there ready fro annihilation on the rails of the past.

One thing, at any rate, is clear. At the end of the beginning—at the beginning of the end—Peter Pan dies.


And here’s the beginning of The Bottom of the Sky (forthcoming), in Will Vanderhyden’s translation:

Find yourself wherever you find yourself, near or far, if you can read what I now write, please, remember, remember me, remember us, like this.

Remember us, remember me, remember that in those days the inhabitants of our planet, of our miniscule universe, were divided into interstellar travelers and creatures from other worlds.

The rest were but secondary characters.

The anonymous builders of the rocket.

Or men and women enslaved by distant creatures of impossible anatomy that, nevertheless, a great mystery, always spoke our language perfectly.

Or humans who practiced the tongue of extraterrestrials that, an even greater mystery, was so similar to the English spoken by a foreigner of a not-too-distant country.

And astronaut or alien weren’t yet terms of common use.

They weren’t, like today, present equally in the mouths of children and the elderly. Those words, like a familiar taste, easy to identify at first bite for teeth both young and new or old and fake.

It wasn’t like now (think of technological jargon as a new form of pornography, of the production of military and domestic gadgets of all size and utility, of faces and bodies modified by laser procedures, of a life after life, and of alternate realities tangled in a network of small computer screens) when there are days that I’m invaded by the suspicion that all the inhabitants of this planet are, without being aware of it, writers of science fiction.

Or, at least, characters created by writers of science fiction.

Back then, in the beginning, it was different.


Finally, here’s the opening of The Invented Part, also translated by Will Vanderhyden:

How to begin.

Or better: How to begin?

(Adding the question mark that—nothing happens by chance—has the shape of a fish or meat hook. A sharp and pointy curve that skewers both the reader and the read. Pulling them, dragging them up from the clear and calm bottom to the cloudy and restless surface. Or sending them flying through the air to land just inside the beach of these parentheses. Parentheses that more than one person will judge or criticize as orthographically and aesthetically unnecessary but that, in the uncertainty of the beginning, are oh so similar to hands coming together in an act of prayer, asking for a fair voyage just now underway. We read: “Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate;” we hear: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” And good luck to all, wishes you this voice—halfway down the road of life, lost in a dark woods, because it wandered off the right path—that the gag of the parentheses renders unknown. And yet—like with certain unforgettable songs, whose melodies impose themselves over the title and even over the signature lines of the chorus, what’s it called? how’d it go?—this voice also recalls that of someone whose name isn’t easy to identify or recognize. And, yes, if possible, avoid this kind of paragraph from here onward because, they say, it scares away many of today’s readers. Today’s electrocuted readers, accustomed to reading quickly and briefly on small screens. And, yes, goodbye to all of them, at least for as long as this book lasts and might last. Unplug from external inputs to nourish yourselves exclusively on internal electricity. And—warning! warning!—at least in the beginning and to begin with, that’s the idea here, the idea from here onward. Consider yourselves warned.)

Or better still: To begin like this?


Although these are distinct, they each have an element of hesitation in them. Kensington Gardens opens strong (“It begins with a boy . . .”) before undercutting that certitude (“Something like that.”), and going off into other possibilites of how to frame the story (“Or better:” “Or” “I’m not sure. It doesn’t matter.”).

The Bottom of the Sky is more imploring in its opening hesitations, questioning if there’s anyone out there to read these words, needing them to remember, before turning toward the past and trying to recover a sense of what that time was like.

After questioning its opening (“How to begin. Or better: How to begin?”), The Invented Part turns on a metafictional dime, grounding the idea that this is a book that is aware it is being written (“Adding the question mark that—nothing happens by chance—has the shape of a fish or meat hook.”) and then addresses potential critics of this stylistic approach (“Parentheses that more than one person will judge or criticize as orthographically and aesthetically unnecessary . . .”).

I’m not sure what to make of these three openings, except that there’s something familiar between the three, a sort of groping around in the narrative voice that is—to me at least—inviting and honest. Looking at these after having read all three of these books, they call to mind the idea that these books sort of drift in out of the ether, signals from somewhere beyond that are in search of a reader. Once you get deeper into any of the novels, this sort of hesitation is shuffled off to the side, but it’s as if the narrative has to lull you in first, aware that all works of fiction are essentially unstable and rely on the imagination and belief of the reader to really work.

29 May 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As you hopefully already know, for the next two months we’ll be producing a weekly podcast and a series of posts all about Rodrigo Fresán’s The Invented Part. All grouped under the title “Two Month Review,” this initiative is part book club, part exercise in slow reading, and part opportunity to discuss and expand upon many of the fun and wonderful aspects of Fresán’s novel. Over the course of the next two months, we’ll serialize an interview that translator Will Vanderhyden did with Fresán. It’s broken up to somewhat align the responses with the section of the book being discussed that week on the podcast, although this is somewhat inexact.

That said, this first section offers up an introduction to Fresán’s work as a whole—written by Will Vanderhyden—and includes a few good questions that serve as openings to The Invented Part. We’ve already posted a few quotes from the first section of the book to whet your interest, and later this week there will be a post about the beginnings of Fresán’s books. Then, on Thursday, June 1st, the new podcast will be released, covering pages 1-45.

You can find all of the “Two Month Review” posts and podcasts by clicking here. And if you use the code 2MONTH on our website, you can get 20% off the book itself. And be sure to weigh in with your comments over at the Goodreads forum!

Rodrigo Fresán was born in Argentina in 1963, spent much of his adolescence in Venezuela, and moved to Barcelona in the late 90s where—apart from a brief stint in the U.S. as an Honorary Writing Fellow at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program—he has lived ever since.

He published his first book of fiction, Historia argentina, in 1991 to great critical and commercial success, making him a reference point in a new generation of Argentinean and Latin American writers eager to escape the typecasts imposed by the global success of the Latin American Boom writers. Since that time, Fresán has published nine more books of fiction. His stories have been widely anthologized and his books translated into a variety of languages.

He has also worked as a journalist and columnist, writing prolifically for various publications in Spain, Argentina, and elsewhere. He has translated, edited, annotated, and/or written prologues for the work of numerous writers including John Cheever, Denis Johnson, Carson McCullers, Iris Murdoch, and Roberto Bolaño.

Fresán’s fiction has been praised by the likes of Jonathan Lethem, John Banville, Enrique Vila-Matas, and Osvaldo Soriano and described as “singular,” “virtuosic,” “irreverent,” “contagious,” and “kaleidoscopic.” He has been compared to Thomas Pynchon, Don Delillo, Geoff Dyer, and David Foster Wallace and called a “pop Borges,” a “genius inventor,” a “guru of literary trends,” and “the only pure postmodern writer in the Spanish language.”

Fresán’s writing is saturated with literary and pop culture references, particularly—though by no means exclusively—references to modern and contemporary English-language literature and to global pop culture of the 1960s and 70s. His books are typically sprawling in both form and content, eschewing conventional narrative structures in favor of more open and fragmentary forms and incorporating elements of science fiction, literary and cultural criticism, and rock journalism. His style is characterized by a hyper self-conscious, encyclopedic, and darkly humoristic narrative sensibility and a prose that is simultaneously playful, kinetic, and unabashedly prolix.

Across his expansive body of work, Fresán explores myriad subjects (Argentina’s dirty war and globalism in the 1980s in Historia argentina and Esperanto, religion and pop art in Vidas de santos, Mexican identity in Mantra, Peter Pan and the lysergic 60s in Kensington Gardens, and science fiction and 9/11 in The Bottom of the Sky, for example) invariably linked to his own obsessions and preoccupations—childhood, memory, the pitfalls of idealism, great literature, writers’ lives, art, and pop culture to name a few—with an approach marked by an insatiable curiosity and an irrepressible compulsion to tell stories.

In a way, The Invented Part—Fresán’s ninth book of fiction and second to be translated into English—subsumes all the books that preceded it. His most overtly autobiographical work to date, this novel—now merely the first book in a trilogy whose second volume has already been published in Spanish and whose third is well under way—is an exploration of the capacious mind and creative process of an aging writer, jaded by readers’ tweet-length attention spans and his own struggle to find a way to feel relevant and to keep on writing. That struggle plays out on the page, across seven novella-length sections that, in one way or another, are descriptions of the novel the writer is trying to write. All of it amounts to a novel (Can I call this a novel?) that is quintessentially Fresanian: a carefully orchestrated yet tornadic crescendo of big ideas, leitmotifs, extended metaphors, humorous lists, surreal and satirical set pieces, reflective digressions, story sketches, and “referential mania,” revolving around questions about what it means to live and create art in our globalized, hyper-mediated, and technologized post-millennial world.

Will Vanderhyden: How to begin . . . I suspect that—considering its subject and scope—this novel contains, in one form or another, the answer (or an answer) to any question I might come up with . . . But setting that suspicion aside for the moment, in the interest of establishing a framework for talking about this book, I think it might be helpful for newcomers to your work to start with some questions about where you think you fit in terms of literary traditions and trends. So, first off: to what extent do you consider yourself an Argentine writer? I know it’s facile to reduce writers to their nationality, but Argentina’s literary tradition is a unique one and your work seems both inextricably bound up in it and somehow external to it. What does that tradition mean to you and where do you fit in it?

Rodrigo Fresán: I consider myself very Argentine in the sense that I don’t consider myself Argentine at all. There’s nothing more Argentine than this, I think. Among the many and exceedingly varied disadvantages of having been born where I was born there is—if you’re a writer—one great advantage, which Borges describes in his essay “The Argentine Writer and Tradition” and which, for me, is something like the trade’s tables of the law for someone who starts out writing as an Argentine in order to, suddenly, right away, as quickly as possible, turn, Argentineanly, into something else. There he writes: “What is Argentine tradition? I believe that this question poses no problem and can easily be answered. I believe our tradition is the whole of Western culture, and I also believe that we have a right to this tradition, a greater right than that which one of the inhabitants of one or another Western nation may have [. . .] Everything we Argentine writers do felicitously will belong to Argentine tradition, in the same way that the use of Italian subjects belongs to the tradition of England through Chaucer and Shakespeare [. . .] Therefore I repeat that we must not be afraid; we must believe that the universe is our birthright and try out every subject; we cannot confine ourselves to what is Argentine in order to be Argentine because either it is our inevitable destiny to be Argentine, in which case we will be Argentine whatever we do, or being Argentine is a mere affectation, a mask. I believe that if we lose ourselves in the voluntary dream called artistic creation, we will be Argentine and we will be, as well, good and adequate writers.”

And, it seems to me, there’s nothing more to add . . .

WV: You have described yourself as “a reader who writes.” Is that a better way to think about where you fit in terms of Argentine tradition, among writers whose work is grounded less in their nationality and more in their library?

RF: Yes, another very Argentine trait. In way, all the writers I admire and am interested in (the aforementioned Borges, Bioy Casares, Cortázar, Piglia, Pauls, Pron, Saccomanno, and on and on) are overflowing with books and writers. I have said it many times in too many interviews: I think that, while other literatures from Latin American and even from Spain have their roots firmly buried in the ground where they take place, Argentine literature’s roots are buried in the wall and, more concretely, in the wall of the library. The tradition of the Argentine writer is built more on the foundation of the figure of the reader than the figure of the writer. And this seems good to me, because when it comes down to it, to tell the truth, everyone who ends up writing does so because they started out reading. The true homeland of writer is his or her library. And a writer’s library is also an important part of his or her biography: a liferary. Nabokov said that the only possible biography for a writer would have to pass through the history of his or her style. I agree, but an important part of one’s style is formed and informed and deformed by the history of one’s readings.

WV: Continuing in the vein of facile classifications . . . I remember hearing an interview with David Foster Wallace where he responds to a question about whether or not he’s a realist by saying that he doesn’t know any writers—even so-called postmodernists like himself—who don’t consider themselves realists, in terms of writing about what life really feels like to them. He goes on to say: “I mean, a lot of stuff that is capital ‘R’ realism just seems to me somewhat hokey, because obviously realism is an illusion of realism.” The narrator of The Invented Part, The Writer, seems to have similar ideas, even ironically coining the term “logical irrealism” to contrast his own writing with “magical realism.” He says: “If magical realism is realism with irreal details, then logical irrealism is its twin opposite: irreality with realistic details . . . And yet, is there anything as irreal as so-called realism? Those stories and novels with dramatic pacing and a perfectly calculated and managed sequence of events. Like Madame Bovary. Or the neat structure and the precise pacing of most detective novels. But reality isn’t like that. Reality is undisciplined and unpredictable. Real reality is authentically irreal . . . There is more realism and verisimilitude in single day of the free and fluid and conscious drifting of Clarissa Dalloway than in the entire prolix and well-measured life and death of Anna Karenina.” Can you talk about what these various classifications mean to you and how they relate to your work?

RF: I agree with Wallace: there are many realities that are in this one just as there are many worlds that are in this one. Nabokov (a writer I’ve gone back to in recent years, more dazzled than ever), again, is useful when it comes to positioning myself on this issue in an interview: “Reality is neither the subject nor the object of true art which creates it’s own special reality having nothing to do with the average ‘reality’ perceived by the communal eye. [. . . ] You can get nearer and nearer, so to speak, to reality; but you can never get near enough because reality is an infinite succession of steps, levels of perception, false bottoms, and hence unquenchable, unattainable. You can know more and more about one thing but you can never know everything about one thing: it’s hopeless. So that we live surrounded by more or less ghostly objects. [. . .] We speak of one thing being like some other thing when what we are really craving to do is to describe something that is like nothing on earth.” And let’s go a little further: “The most we can do when steering a favorite in the best direction, in circumstances not involving injury to others, is to act as a breath of wind and to apply the lightest, the most indirect pressure such as trying to induce a dream that we hope our favorite will recall as prophetic if a likely event does actually happen. On the printed page the words ‘likely’ and ‘actually’ should be italicized too, at least slightly, to indicate a slight breath of wind inclining those characters (in the sense of both signs and personae),” he points out as a sort of editorial advice in Transparent Things. “I am no more guilty of imitating ‘real life’ than ‘real life’ is responsible for plagiarizing me,” he explains in the preface to the collected stories Nabokov’s Dozen. And more, even more Nabokov: that flower plucked by Nabokov, in that interview, as an example of how “reality is a very subjective affair” and that “I can only define it as a kind of gradual accumulation of information; and as specialization.” That, again, reality is nothing but “an infinite succession of steps, levels of perception, false bottoms.” And that, of course, there is a neutral reality that includes and involves all of us; but that, in the next breath, each of us has our own reality and entirely personal perception of that flower. And that there’s no such thing as “everyday reality” which is a term that “presupposes a situation that is permanently observable, essentially objective, and universally known.” And still more: “‘Reality’ (one of the few words which means nothing without quotes),” he concludes in the afterword to Lolita.

The thing about “logical irrealism” was just a joke (I hope a good one) to escape from the “magical realism” that—when I first started to write and publish—every foreign publisher and academic and critic seemed to be searching for, even though it wasn’t there, in Argentine literature just because it was Latin American. In any case, Colombian or Chilean or Mexican or Peruvian writers of my generation had it much worse in that sense because their past and present were much more irradiated by their totemic writers and by the luminous shadow of the Boom. In Argentina, we were never that concerned with/interested in the Boom and, besides, all the great writers from my country embraced the fantastic genre as one/another facet of reality.

We’ll be back with more of this interview next week!

26 May 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The first Two Month Review podcast went up just over a week ago, and the next one—covering the first section of the book, “The Real Character” (pages 1-45)—will be posted next Thursday, June 1st. Prior to each week’s podcast, we hope to have at least some sort of overview post that offers some entranceways to the section to be discussed. These posts aren’t supposed to be complete, absolute, or anything that formal. More like notes or musings, and featuring lots of quotes. They also will be—as much as humanly possible—spoiler free. So you can read them before getting into the book, or after you’ve read that particular section, or post-podcast.

You can also download this as a PDF document.

As always, you can get The Invented Part for 20% from our website by using the code 2MONTH. It’s also available at better bookstores everywhere.

And be sure to join the Goodreads group and subscribe to the Three Percent Podcast on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.

I can’t think of another book with as many epigraphs as The Invented Part. Sixteen! There are quotes from David Foster Wallace, Iris Murdoch, Bret Easton Ellis, Marcel Proust, Bob Dylan, and many others. Eleven others, to be exact. Covering the first two-and-a-half pages of the book. Some of these are pithy (Juan Carlos Onetti’s “Always lie”), whereas Geoff Dyer’s runs seven full lines.

Taken as a whole, these sixteen (again, sixteen!) epigraphs make a good deal of sense and serve almost as an overture for the book. They tend to revolve around ideas about reality vs. fiction. About writing and autobiography, and the relationship of both to the truth.

All of that comes together in this one from John Cheever, which also works to frame my initial thoughts about “The Real Character” (emphasis on “real,” emphasis on
“character”), the first part of The Invented Part.

Writing is not crypto-autobiography, and it’s not current events. I’m not writing my autobiography, and I’m not writing things as they happen to me, with the exception of the use of details—thunderstorms and that sort of thing. No, it’s nothing that happened to me. It’s a possibility. It’s an idea.

It’s easy to see The Writer (the main focus of the novel, known as The Boy in this particular chapter) as a stand-in for Fresán, and maybe when we get deeper into the book, it will make more sense to write a post about that. But for now, I want to focus on the last bit of Cheever’s quote: “It’s a possibility.” Because this book is all about possibilities—the way things were, the way they could’ve been—and the interplay between the possible and the invented.


“The Real Character” is basically an origin story. It shows The Boy (who will eventually become The Writer) on vacation with his parents (or “onvacation” since he hears it as a single word), at the beach, running and playing unselfconsciously while his soon-to-divorce parents read in the sun and bicker with each other. And then there’s an event that could’ve broke any number of ways, and which, in retrospect, is the moment that serves as a secret source for all his future writings.

Is this the most important thing that’s happened to him yet?, The Boy wonders. (Who knows, he responds; and, at the other end of his story, decades later, he’ll say yes, when he realizes that the most transcendent events take place in the past but only happen in the future, when we’re truly cognizant of their importance, of the influence and weight they’ve had on everything that has and will come to pass. And it’s that which happens after that makes the before sad or happy. We need to know where we’re coming to in order to fully understand the texture of where we came from. [. . .]

This is the sort of idea that could launch a thousand weed-filled dorm room conversations. We never know what was most important until that moment is long past. In the present, we might sense the possibilities, the way our life could shift based on a single decision or accident, but we never get to see those other pathways. Except maybe in fiction, but fiction has the benefit of being able to make those choices or events part of a larger whole—whether things turned out for the best or not.

This is jumping way ahead, but later in the book The Writer echoes this idea when talking about “logical irrealism”:

If magical realism is realism with irreal details, then logical irrealism is its twin opposite: irreality with realistic details . . . And yet, is there anything as irreal as so-called realism? Those stories and novels with dramatic pacing and a perfectly calculated and managed sequence of events. Like Madame Bovary. Or the neat structure and the precise pacing of most detective novels. But reality isn’t like that. Reality is undisciplined and unpredictable. Real reality is authentically irreal . . . There is more realism and verisimilitude in a single day of the free and fluid and conscious drifting of Clarissa Dalloway than in the entire prolix and well-measured life and death of Anna Karenina.

All this talk of fiction, possibilities, and books is the perfect segue to go back to the parents on the beach who are sort of, kind of reading the same book together:

On the beach, under the sun, the father and mother read the same book. It’s not the first time they’ve done this. That’s how they met: the two of them reading the same book. On a train, the most romantic of all modes of transit. That same book they never stop reading. And, of course, there’s no better argument than that for putting a conversation in drive and taking a ride down the tunnel of love. But as tends to happen with everything that seems charming in a romance’s initial hours, this ritual of reading separately together—of reading the same book but different books, at the same time—now just produces a kind of irritation. The kind of annoyance we experience when, after a long time, we still feel obliged to do something that we obliged ourselves to do in the first place. And, then, you can’t help but wonder, why am I doing this, damn it, damn it, how did I get here, could I be more of an idiot? [. . .]

And the father and mother don’t know it yet, but they’re reading different versions of the same novel in the same way that they’re writing different versions of their marriage and the imminent allegations of their defense and/or prosecution. Because the book’s author decided, almost desperate, just before dying, to alter the temporal flow of the plot—which wasn’t initially linear, but sinuous, present and past and present—and to reorganize it chronologically. To see—he’d just put so much work into those pages and nobody seemed that interested in them, considering them a successful failure or something like that—if, that way, the novel improved, if it was appreciated more, if it sold better. His instructions were followed post-mortem by his literary executor. The new version was considered inferior and he reverted to the original, to the one that—just like real time—moves forward and backward and forward again. But for a few years, in English and in translation, both versions existed at the same time. And The Boy—when he was no longer a boy, when he was able to read and compare them, multiple times—was never sure which his mother had read and which his father had read. Who moved straight and true from past to future and who was left spinning in place.

It’s made explicitly clear later, but the book The Boy/The Writer’s parents is reading is Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A novel that really was published in two differing orders: one that was semi-complicated and filled with flashbacks, the other that was more straightforward and chronological. With art there’s always the opportunity to rearrange things and explore other possibilities.


Another thread that runs throughout this chapter is a sort of tension about the possibility of going back in time and changing one’s life. This is most explicit with the parents, who, while they’re lying on the sand have that untoward thought that a lot of parents have at one time or another—what if I could go back to the time before I had kids?

No, the father and mother are dragged along by The Boy. The father and mother drag their feet, and a wicker basket, and an umbrella, and towels, and their own bodies. And the father and the mother are dragged by The Boy. As if he were steering them, lassoed, pulling them along, strangling them with an invisible and inseverable rope around their necks. And it’s not like the mother and father have tried to sever it, but it’s also not like they haven’t thought many times about what it would be like to cut it. And—presto!—magically return to the past, to those other beaches, where The Boy only existed as a pleasant and egotistical fantasy. The father and the mother return, further away all the time, to The Boy as a mere idea that occurred to them every so often. An idea to enjoy for a while and then hide away under lock and key (one of those keys that you can’t ever find when you look for it and that, with the aid of a pair of parentheses, seems to become invisible) in the drawers of a more or less possible future, always yet to come or, at least, a lateral future, in the possible variation of a possible future. This is what every father and mother in the universe dreams when they close their eyes, though none of them ever confess it. Right there. In that instant. Before falling asleep and dreaming of any other thing, of free falling or being naked in public—the greatest hits of the common nightmare. But first, like the trailer for a movie that will never premiere. About what it’d be like to not be parents. To wake up on a planet where there wasn’t someone resting—yet restlessly moving and making noise—in the next room. About times when they went to bed late or not at all. [. . .] And sometimes The Boy’s dreams overlap with his parents’ dreams, producing a strange phenomenon: The Boy dreams he’s running on a beach without them and his father and mother dream they’re running on a beach without him. And they’re all so happy. And yet the next morning they understand that they can’t live without each other; that, though less and less, they still need each other; that now, nothing and nobody can or will ever be able to separate them or untie the knot of their lives.

And yet, the invulnerability of that instant of pure love doesn’t last long; and now The Boy is trying get away from them, running.


One of my favorite aspects of Fresán’s writing—which he really exploits in this novel—is his endless list making. Amusing, poignant, wooly, and overflowing, these lists make manifest all the various possibilities of a given situation.

What does The Boy think about? Lots of things! A good writer would point to the racing nature of the boy’s mind, how thoughts are freer when you’re small and haven’t yet heard how stupid your voice sounds when it’s recorded, or what you look like when you dance. An equally good writer might pull out a few telling examples of what’s going on in The Boy’s mind—ideas that illuminate his character and fears, while foreshadowing the arc of his story. (I’m not sure that’s a book I would think is “good,” but whatever.) Fresán provides forty-one random examples of The Boy’s thoughts over six pages, ranging from the childish,

— Why does Superman appear to exert himself equally—the same muscle
tension, the same knit brow—when he picks up a car or alters the orbit of an
entire planet?


— Is Jell-O animal, vegetal, mineral, or interplanetary?

to the more character-specific,

— What’s a comma doing putting itself between two numbers? Was mathematics created just to drive him crazy, a universal conspiracy in which everyone pretends to understand something that’s clearly incomprehensible and has no sense or logic? And what makes a psychotic so sure that 2 + 2 makes 5, while a neurotic knows that 2 + 2 makes 4 but just can’t handle it? And what about the person who always thinks that 2 + 2 equals 1 + 1 + 1 + 1, or the exact number of times you have to let the phone ring before answering or hanging up?

to the more philosophical wonderings a reader looking back on life as a child might think.

— Why is it that now, later on, when people sing “Happy Birthday” they seem to always be thinking about their own birthday, about how many they’ve had, how many they’ve got left, about whether or not they are happy birthdays?


Although I think the seven sections of this novel could be read in any order, “The Real Character” is a great opening piece, introducing The Boy/The Writer and Fresán’s literary style (references, digressions, lists, and sidesteps) alongside a number of key motifs, not the least of which is the idea of “the invented part,” which comes up near the end and which is where I’ll leave off for this week.

The invented part that is not, not ever, the deceitful part, but the part that actually makes something that merely happened into something as it should have happened. Something (everything to come, the rest of his life, will spring from that there and then, from that exact moment) more authentic and valuable and pure than the simple and banal and often unsubtle and sloppy truth. [. . .]

Then, unavoidably, unable to avoid it, when answering those questions, he’ll put on a parentheses face, he’ll invent something, anything, when answering how he invents the invented part. The invented part—an oh so insubstantial cloud that, nonetheless, manages to make the sun shut its mouth and stay quiet for a while—is nothing but a true shadow projecting itself across the real part.

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