Your Friday Recommendation #2

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.

ringThis 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.


3 thoughts on “Your Friday Recommendation #2”

  1. Having missed the conversation due to an apartment flood, I’ll add my two cents here.

    What I found really intriguing about People of Paper, apart from its typographical tricks (slightly more sophisticated and related to the plot than, say Jerry Rubin’s in “Do It!”) was Plascencia’s take on colonization.

    Each character in the book had some sort of relationship with colonization–even the minor ones. Saturn was the only major character with non-Hispanic origins, but I think we were in large part led to believe that he/we was/were a sort of colonizer or exploiter for observing the characters’ lives without their permission. The reader is made complicit in historical acts that have changed a culture so hispanic people dump their racial brethren in favor of beautiful whites, but that those Mexicans who are made to be white (wholly of paper), just hurt those who love them and disintegrate completely.

    You were probably right about your observations above, but my biggest takeaway from this book was insight into what it means for Plascencia to be a Mexican-American (or at least an Angelino) and how he sees his culture and identity as having been affected by all sorts of colonization.

  2. You’re right, Jerad, and that’s a part of the book I didn’t address in my post like I should have. Plascencia uses his knowledge of Mexican-American culture and identity as the connecting thread in all of this manipulation of form and presentation, and it’s solid enough to deserve not to be overlooked.


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