Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Review: The Book of Murder. Guillermo Martinez

NY: Viking, 2008.
ISBN 9780670019946

Michael Sedano

Guillermo Martinez gives fresh meaning to the term "love triangle" in his story-within-a-story novel that also illustrates the bad end that comes of an old fart fantasizing about a younger woman. 

Such reverie is second nature to a pair of Buenos Aires writers who hire the same fresh-faced young woman to whom each dictates a current novel.

The unnamed narrator of this work, ably translated by Sonia Soto, is a late-twenties writer with an injured hand. His publisher recommends Luciana, the eighteen year old clerk employed by Kloster, a reclusive and admired writer, who will be out of the country for the month of the writer's recuperation.

The writer begins to read signals in the woman's routines. Although the writer finds the woman's skills extraordinary, he finds her body substandard. Luciana has small breasts and round hips. Martinez is acutely aware of his character's sexism, and plays it up with the writer's description of Luciana's body, "before she sat down I noticed that from the waist down she suffered from the characteristic Argentinian asymmetry, as yet only incipient, of excessive hips."

The writer's passion gets an equivocal reward. He imposes a massage on an exposed neck. When Luciana doesn't protest he continues the massage routinely. It ends in a brief kiss, and her month is up.

When Luciana returns to her previous employer, Koster, he starts a massage routine of his own. When Koster puts a move on the woman, this time she screams and rushes away. There's a lawsuit, Koster must face up to sexual harassment, pay the penalty, and Lucia go on about her life with a difficult lesson.

Martinez spins the tale through Lucia's eyes into the writer's increasingly incredulous ears. Although outlandish, the writer finds Lucia's story of murder and revenge compellingly plausible. He saw and responded to the signals Lucia sent out, a young woman experimenting with her ability to entice a man's attention. He knows what allure the demure young woman radiates.

After Lucia charges Koster with sexual harassment, Koster's wife sues for divorce and keeps the child, who then drowns in her own bathtub. Lucia is convinced Koster blames Lucia and revenges himself by killing Lucia's boyfriend, mother, father, and brother.

That is the tale crazed Lucia relates so compellingly the writer makes an appointment to interview Koster for a book based around Lucia's charges. Koster tells the same story, from his point of view. Which novel will be truer to the fact? 

For added fun, just as the reader is juggling Lucia's version against Koster's version against the narrator's version, it becomes clear that we are now reading the very novel our narrator has come to thrash about with Koster.

Innocent, or guilty. Coincidence, or revenge? Is Lucia broken and wrongfully accusing the great writer of a series of horrible crimes, or is the great writer a horrid monster exacting his revenge? 

Martinez creates a comedy that closes with a chilling thought. Obviously, both Koster and our narrator are a pair of sexist fools, but Lucia paid the price. And what of Lucia's young sister, the spitting image of the older sister and only sixteen. She's fallen under Koster's protection.  What if Koster is the monster Lucia saw, and Valentina will be his ultimate revenge?

Academics Call For Papers

MELUS,  society for the study of Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, is organizing two panels at MLA in 2009. As MELUS-sponsored events, these panels welcome submissions from anyone interested in the study of multi-ethnic literature and culture but require those whose proposals are accepted to be members of the society.

Panel One: Ethnicity and the Short Story

Topics include all aspects of short fiction, including the short story cycle, relating to ethnicity. 250-word abstracts and 1-2 page vitae by Mar. 25 to Wenxin Li (liw@sunysuffolk.edu).

Panel Two: American Ethnic Bestsellers

Ethnic bestsellers. Popularizing ethnic fiction through marketing, reviewing, and book clubs. Aesthetic, political, and pedagogical implications. 250-word abstracts and 1-2 page vitae by Mar. 25 to Fred Gardaphe (fred.gardaphe@qc.cuny.edu).


2009 Conference on Mesoamerica

La Bloga friend Roberto Cantu sends updated information on the Cal State LA conference,

“Continuity and Change in Mesoamerican History From the Pre-Classic to the Colonial Era”
An Homage to Tatiana A. Proskouriakoff

May 15-16, 2009
Salazar Hall E184
California State University, Los Angeles

Conference Highlights

Keynote Speaker
Prof. David Carrasco
Founder and Director of the Mesoamerican Archive Neil L. Rudenstein Professor of the Study of Latin America Harvard University
Title of Lecture:
“Re-Discovering Aztlán and a Mesoamerican Odyssey: An Interpretive Journey through the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan”
May 16
Viewing of the film “Breaking the Maya Code” based on a book by Michael Coe with references
to Tatiana Proskouriakoff’s life and work.
May 15.
A two-hour decipherment workshop on Maya writing systems
Presented by David Lebrun.
May 16

The Ides will have come and gone by next Tuesday, so if your name is César, beware the Ides. Time Marches on, saving daylight from coast to coast except in certain locales. 


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Book of Murder is now my new favorite.