Faces in the Crowd, Valeria Luiselli, tr. Christina MacSweeney, Granta, 2012.
I am so in love with Valeria Luiselli’s writing – or Christina MacSweeney’s translation. Everything about this book hit the spot for me. It seemed a little as though this may be her Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy, moment. The narrator’s identity shifts, so that the novel may have been written by a young woman imagining the ghosts of dead writers, or maybe one of the dead writers wrote the book and imagined the ghost of a young woman. As I see it, ambiguity combined with gorgeous writing always makes for a very interesting reading experience. The only thing that is certain about this narrative is that nothing is certain.
I loved reading Sidewalks, Luiselli’s book of essays, but I think I found this more satisfying. As someone who keeps close company with the dead writers and poets living in my head, I breathe a big sigh of relief when I encounter someone else who has that sort of stuff jangling around inside their brain. It seems to me that literature may be woven into Luiselli’s DNA. Writing is important to her, in the way it was important to Joyce – after a while it just becomes part of you, inexplicably, inextricably and irrevocably twined around your soul. Oh, yes. The text is most definitely Joycean in flavour, but I also detected a strong nod to Vila-Matas’ Dublinesque, one of my favourite books of all time.
Faces in the Crowd is comprised of short passages, sometimes only a paragraph, sometimes only a couple of sentences, that combine to form the whole. The narrative zips and zaps about, switching time, place and narrator. American Objectivist poets and other literary luminaries make an appearance in the beautifully layered novel which is ‘not a fragmented novel’ but a ‘horizontal novel, narrated vertically’ (p. 70). I am reluctant to say anything more about the book because I do not want to spoil it for anyone. I think it is one of those books that is best read with an open mind and no preconceived notion as to what it is about. It will probably appeal to readers who like metafiction with a postmodernist vibe, but some people may find it a bit too, hmm, non-linear, perhaps?
The first thing I do remember is the face of Ezra pound in the crowd waiting on the platform for the train. Of course, it wasn’t really him. The doors opened and there he was on the platform, leaning against a pillar. We looked each other straight in the eye, as if in recognition, although he couldn’t possibly have heard anything about me, a young Irish-Mexican, neither red haired nor good looking, more bastard than poet. I let the passengers leave and be replaced by others, identically ugly, overheated and ordinary. Pound didn’t board the train. He was lost among the crowd of faces on the platform, faces like the wet petals of his poem (p.87).
There’s nothing so ill-advised as attributing a metonymic value to inanimate things. If you think the condition of a plant in a pot is a reflection of the condition of your soul, or worse, that of a loved one, you’ll be condemned to disillusion or paranoia (p.13).
A dense porous novel. Like a baby’s heart (p.28).
‘In a Station of the Metro’
by Ezra Pound (1913)
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.