I have a group of friends who meet on the first Monday of the month for the Ron Book Club. I’m usually unavailable due to Monday night class, but I always get to join them in January over winter break. This month, we read and discussed The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia.
This is MFA-earner Plascencia’s first novel and he does well combining three things he knows well: the culture and geography of Mexico and southern California, presentation, and writing. Stay with me here, the story is narrated by the planet Saturn, who watches a few people on earth, who then narrate their own tale of battling for their freedom against the planet Saturn for watching them. The novel continues to turn inside on itself, becoming meta as characters realize their story is a novel (this doesn’t stop them from trying to rebel from their narrator, however). Plascencia has written a story for keen-eyed readers who enjoy connecting the dots and for writers who have ever felt their characters take over the story they’re writing, whether they wanted it or not.
Reading the novel, I enjoyed the story and annotated along the way, but halfway through I wondered if I would be as intrigued as I was if it wasn’t for the presentation style, the book’s primary novelty. Point of view switches between first and third person, sometimes within the same character’s narration. Some characters speak in blocks of black ink, their words missing, censored, or intelligible, other characters have moments of blank white space to represent their silence. Ink also serves as blood, splashing pages in great drops, blotting out text. One character’s name is even completely scratched out of the novel. While these are fascinating craft choices, I wonder if the “gimmick” outshines the fourth-wall smashing story. Still, it’s worth a read to see these craft choices in practice.
Ron Book Team’s February selection is New York Times bestseller Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen. I hope to make at least a few of the RBT meetings and keep you updated on our selections and subsequent discussions.