Jorge Acuario is the well respected but underfunded writer in question who punctuates his awkward encounters with lines like, "More and more often I make people laugh without intending to do so, and at night, it made me weep." Acuario learns in passing that a peripheral spectre from his past, Pablo Pisces, has resurfaced, committed to mental institution where he is taken hostage by the characters of his own novels, who possess him mind and body each day. Some are harmless. One confesses, "I've killed someone, many years ago, I've killed a woman, because my family said I couldn't do anything." Acuario begins to visit Pisces on a regular basis, each time absorbing more of the anguished writer's sickness.
Acuario finds that he can predict which characters will manifest with Pisces on any given day, and rushes to the institution when he has a premonition that Claudio the suicide is due for a visit. The Nobel Prize is indeed granted in the book, but it's an afterthought that caps a twisted tale of a shared identity crisis. The line between reality and imagination suffers as Jorge Acuario takes this strange world with him when he leaves the institution. "As in many of these meetings," he reveals, "I could not convince myself they were real, I was not sure whether I had imagined them, or even written them, at least in my mind. Or if they really happened."
Benarroch's dialogue-heavy style makes even some of his digressions breezy reading. Pisces dada-esque phone conversation with a help-line operator alone is worth the price of admission. He evokes the dreamy kind of dread one feels when waking up from a black out drunk as the unsettled brain struggles to maintain consistent focus. The reader will let down her guard just enough to accept the questionable reality that develops.
What if your imagination is your reality, what if it is in your best interest to create characters that seem real enough to you and even more alive to your readers, characters that you could maybe converse with in your mind. What if those characters become detached, free floating, like thoughts, and then maybe in a moment of spiritual or physical weakness, they find you empty and take the opportunity to enter you, to possess you more completely than before. Our self-conception is vulnerable to passing fancy. Couldn't I as easily be a Gene or a Benjamin instead of an Anthony? What if I had no choice? Benarroch keeps us guessing until the very end, when our narrator comes to terms with the discomfiting flights of random coincidence that plague his daily routine. Benarroch earns 4 out of 4 stars for juggling suspense, sex, and philosophy in a story that, for anyone who has ever loved a character on the page or screen, is eerily, entirely plausible."
I think the premise was what really drew me in and kept me reading. The narrator is a writer who finds out that an old member of his writing group is in a mental institution. When the narrator visits the hospital, he finds this other writer is acting like his characters, taking on the personality of a different character every day. As the narrator documents his visits to the hospital, his life grows more surreal, as the line between fiction and reality is blurred. The narrative is filled with playful jabs at writers and the craft of writing, and shows how every good writer is just a little insane.
I'll have to admit to not 'getting' some of the satire and points the author was trying to make. For instance, in the second half of the book, the narrator meets a woman who claims to be an alien, and ends up having a bizarre sexual encounter with her. I could tell the author was messing with me by having this sex-crazed alien appear and tempt the (married!) narrator out of the blue, but I still don't know what to make of it - a commentary on gratuitous sex scenes in novels? A satire of nonsensical characters that enter into and disappear from stories? It was funny and weird to read, though, even if I didn't understand every point.
As I suggested earlier, the first thing I noticed were some oddities in translation. Some sentences end in strange ways, and there are several small problems with grammar. I have to wonder if some of it is intentional; after all, the narrative constantly plays with the reader.
Another 'problem' with the narrative - the book telegraphs its ending fairly early on. I suspect most readers will guess the ending within the first few chapters, but again, this is all part of a satire full of fourth-wall breaks and bizarre happenings.
My final rating is 3 out of 4. While I can appreciate the satire in the odd narrative, the translation really needed more work to entice English-speaking readers. I think that the opening pages, at least, needed to be edited for grammar, as well as the promotional pages on Amazon and elsewhere. It's really difficult for the reader to know just what they are getting into, and I think it's too off-putting to dismiss as 'part of the satire'." TCC Edwards, onlinebookclub.org