The picaresque novel of the Twenty First Century?
Leer en Español: Latam BookLook: “La historia de mis dientes” de Valeria Luiselli
What’s it about?
“The Story of my Teeth” is Valeria Luiselli’s second novel. It has been recognized with several awards, and it was a finalist for the National Book Award in the United States. It narrates Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez’s life, also known as Carretera, the self-acclaimed best auctioneer in the world. Carretera is a man who was born in one of Ciudad de Mexico’s popular neighborhoods, two hours away from the city center. After having multiple jobs, including working as a security guards for a juice factory, he finds a course to become an auctioneer. He signs up and attends the classes. He learns to auction things through different techniques, which allow him to sell them for a lot more than what they might actually be worth. He even invents his own auctioneering technique. His success leads him, somehow, to acquire Marilyn Monroe’s teeth, and he has a dentist insert the Hollywood diva’s teeth in his mouth. He carries them as his own until one day they are mysteriously stolen. After being toothless for a few months, he finally manages to acquire Samuel Pickwick’s teeth, that is, Dickens’s character’s teeth. He installs them on himself because he does not want to trust anyone with his new teeth. Through Carretera’s stories, often times exaggerated and closer to magical realism, Luiselli builds a character similar to the “cuenteros” tourists will find in big Latin American cities, who make a living by going around the streets and telling stories of their magical adventures. Through subtitles, photographs, and other forms that escape the traditional novel, Luiselli creates a fresh narrative, which mixes the classic aspects of a print book with tools from the Internet age, such as Google Street View.
Who wrote it?
Valeria Luiselli is a Mexican author living in the United States. She is characterized by her style, which is playful but at the same time serious. She builds narratives full of laughter and tears, without crossing the line to melodrama. Her essays have been published in various platforms and projects. For instance, her essay “Swings of Harlem” was part of the web project Where You Are. It consists of an essay told through Polaroid pictures of parks in Harlem, placed in the different places where they were taken on a Google Maps satellite map. The pictures are accompanied by text, and it is an essay that, due to its web format, can be navigated and read in different order. Her language use is always consistent: playful, and between innocent and wise.
Read or pass?
“The Story of my Teeth” will surprise the reader because of all of its twists and turns. It is a novel that does not stay within the boundaries of the genre. With multiple hints, Luiselli shows the reader her literary influence: for instance, the owner of the juice factory where Carretera worked is called Octavio, like Octavio Paz, and before the factory, the hero worked in a newspaper post, owned by a man named Rubén Darío. Besides, Carretera appropriates theories of important thinkers of the past by turning them into his uncles: Juan Pablo Sánchez Sartre and Marcelo Sánchez Proust, for example, appear when Carretera needs them to illustrate his points.
Due to the narrative structure of the novel, “The Story of my Teeth” could be the picaresque novel of the Twenty First Century. If you are looking for a funny, unexpected read, this is the one.
Latin American Post | Laura Rocha Rueda