The Invented Part
by Rodrigo Fresán
Translated by Will Vanderhyden
Open Letter Books
552 pp.
 

 

DIY Thinking

 

 

From here until the end of consciousness, we are stuck with the task of defending art.
                                                                                                                                                  --Susan Sontag
 
In spite of everything, my heart beats, my hand reaches out, new projects are born and push me forward.
                                                                                                                                                 --Simone de Beauvoir
 
As the decades pass, the postmodern program, the notion of formal experimentation as an act of resistance, begins to seem seriously misconceived.
                                                                                                                                                 --Jonathan Franzen

 

 

     Like a lot of good fiction, there are several ways to describe what Rodrigo Fresán's The Invented Part is about. There is the hook, the most compact and easy-to-express-in-an-interesting-way: the book is about a veteran writer who attempts to merge with the Higgs boson (aka 'God') particle to become the first true omniscient narrator. There is the serious reader way: the book is about the decline of Western culture, the backseat literature has taken and continues to take to Tweets and hourly updates. There are the six pages near the end of the book that describe what the book might be like: no spoiler, but one of the sentences is, “A book like one of Edward Hopper's clean and well-lit rooms, but with a Jackson Pollock waiting to come out of the closet.”

     At its most trying, the book can sound like the repeated lamentations of an activist from the '60s and '70s about how young people don't care anymore. But that's part of the story. An author whose entire life, mental and physical, has been determined by his love and obsession of literature is living in a reality that doesn't seem to have time for him. Where the fault lies is up to the reader. The author is highly aware of his obsessions and their potential to put off readers (there are several images of books being thrown against walls). The book is a long love-hate song, or literary hymn.

 

     If you have any feelings whatsoever about F. Scott Fitzgerald in general or Tender is the Night in particular, you should read this book.

     If you have any feelings whatsoever about the Brontë sisters or Emily Brontë and Wuthering Heights in particular, you should read this book.

     If you have any feelings whatsoever about William S. Burroughs in general or the events surrounding his wife Joan Vollmer's death, you should read this book.

     If you have any feelings about Pink Floyd in general or Wish You Were Here in particular, you should read this book.

     If you have any feelings about Stanley Kubrick in general or 2001: A Space Odyssey in particular, you should read this book.

     If you have any feelings about The Kinks in general or the song “Big Sky” in particular, you should read this book.

     There are dozens, if not hundreds, of other references, allusions, and digressive anecdotes about literary and popular culture.

 

     There are things you can read, much shorter things, that will be a good litmus test for The Invented Part. Try John Cheever's “A Miscellany of Characters that Will Not Appear”. If you've read or seen Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, you'll have an idea of the terrain you're opening yourself into. Like Cheever's story, the feel of reading Fresán's unique prose is as much a part of the book as the stories it tells.

     There are difficult aspects of this book. There are often lengthy clauses, pre- and appended with dashes or parentheses, placed in the middle of sentences. You will probably have to reread these sentences, but you will see they hold up. Will Vanderhyden had his work cut out for him, and he did a great job translating the novel.

     Some readers will inevitably think of The Invented Part as narcissistic exhibitionism, which it is, as any work of art is on some level, but for some readers it will be more. It will be a blueprint of how (or how not) to build a web out of the things you love, or don't love, and have occupied so much of your time and attention, and how to traverse that web, and what might be pleasurable or dangerous about it. Because the web also happens to be your life, at least the mental part of it.

     This book will cost you about as much as a foot massage at one of those questionable places on Archer Avenue in Chicago, and last you a lot longer. Other items of comparable cost and disparate value: four and a half Big Macs; one and a half cocktails at any downtown restaurant; seven or eight watered down beers at whatever regular guy/gal bar you drink at, not including tip; less than a full tank of gasoline; Monopoly.

     The Invented Part is the second of Rodrigo Fresán's books to appear in English translation. Open Letter has signed on to translate and release more of his novels: Mantra, The Bottom of the Sky, and The Dreamed Part (the second book of a trilogy, The Invented Part being the first).

 

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Epigraphs:

1. “Against Interpretation”

2. “Pyrrhus and Cineas”

3. “Mr. Difficult”, from The New Yorker 30 September 2002 issue