Like a lot of first novels, this book feels like it’s contending with the purpose and possibility and justification for writing a novel in the first place. A lot of times male writers don’t end up ever asking that question, so it’s left to the critics and readers to think about this on their own. In this book, we are faced directly with the justification of writing itself. A novelist in Mexico City is writing a novel and reaching and grabbing from her life and the lives around her for faces and names and characters to put into it. In it, a translator of Spanish-language poetry living in New York (a stand in for the novelist, a stand in? for Luiselli) is pulling from her life in translating poetry of an obscure Spanish-language poet living in the US. This poet, through the translation, is thinking about writing, life, his body, the bodies of others, the poets he sees and meets around him — like Lorca, and weighing in on life and the life of the mind in a sagging dying vessel. This poet is also directly drawn from the translator and the author’s husband.
It’s an inventive and somewhat wild novel that like Story of My Teeth thinks about what lives are worth living, or more what lives lived are valued, and like Lost Children Archive is looking for legitimacy in the act of storytelling by questioning the language and forms we use to tell stories.