This is a trickster novel at its finest. We meet Adam Gordon, grad student poet on a fellowship in Spain in spring of 2004 drunk, high, and on and off medication on his way to party at the start of this novel. We are meant quickly to understand that he is highly intelligent and kind of a moron at the same time, that he is a consummate liar and manipulator, and that he is also a kind of good poet, but that he’s terrified of his own poetry and skill, and certainly of whatever would constitute real or earnest feelings. In the opening section he tells his translator, a woman of some repute — though he doesn’t know this at the time as he’s not bothered to look her up — that his mother is dead because she catches him crying in a kind of drug-addled shame spiral but doesn’t want her to know the truth because he hasn’t figured out if he has a chance to sleep with her or not.
That’s where we begin and as we follow the novel called but not so convincingly autofiction we come to recognize that Adam Gordon does indeed have fascinating but maybe empty feelings and ideas about poetry and that at least to us, he’s mostly telling the truth.
If you’re aware of the timeline of the novel, which I only was at the event approached, this takes place within the space of the Madrid bombings in 2004 and Adam’s placement there as an American is oddly funny and off-putting. He’s asked directly in sneering tone whether he will write a poem about this day, which he says no, to avoid a fight, but here we are reading the novel.
This is a book about the ability and inability of language to communicate. It’s earnest and often hilarious, and so self-scathing it’s a joy to read, depending on just how much Adam Gordon you have in you, or how many Adam Gordons you’ve had in your life.