Every so often I read a book so good that I want to snuggle it like a pet and recite it at ceremonies. A book that gives me solace, as it assures me that my writing never really mattered, anyway, because half the literary world could down tools tomorrow and this book would take care of business (also how I feel about Donald Glover in general). A book so good it makes me shift the imaginary seats around at the imaginary table I have set for the ‘Best Dinner Party Ever – Guests Living or Dead‘.
This is how Valeria Luiselli took seat seven at my imaginary dinner party, between David Bowie and my real-life bestie Ciara Ross (know where you’re from, show respect, stay humble).
I have read the first two of the eight stories that make up The Story Of My Teeth and already it is a stonker. It reminds me of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, for no other reason than both of them make me think ‘This is close to perfect‘. A feeling which I first heard expressed by my Mum’s bestie, Trish Slattery, about Tartt’s novel, to give credit where it’s due (know where you’re from, etc…).
The Story Of My Teeth follows the exploits of Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez. On the first page, he proclaims ‘This is the story of my teeth, and a treatise on collectibles and the variable value of objects‘. On the second page, he describes his birth as a hairy brown baby, already sporting four premature teeth – ‘But Mom took me in her arms the moment she saw me: a tiny, brown, swollen blob fish. She had been trained to accept filth as her fate. Dad hadn’t.‘ On the third page, he describes his house, and his father’s armchair, which ‘Mom inherited from Mr. Cortázar, our neighbour in 4-A, after he died of tetanus. When Mr. Cortázar’s progeny came to take away his belongings, they left us his macaw, Criteria – who suffered a terminal case of sadness after a few weeks – and the green velvet armchair where Dad took to lounging every evening.‘
I could go on. Every short page contains sentences that bring me pure joy. The writing is sparse, it moves quickly by saying exactly what it needs to.
The Story Of My Teeth is funny in my favourite way, and the hardest way. It does not rely on one liners, but a dark atmospheric humour, a cumulative humour, it builds up slowly, from lines that are wry, or awful, or so smart and satisfying that they produce humour-like-symptoms – you find yourself laughing for no reason. Perhaps because you are delighted to be as wicked as the book is.
I’m trying to stick to the 500 word limit in this blog (I’ve broken it a few times) so I’ll just remind you that this book was written by Mexican/South African author Valeria Luiselli IN COLLABORATION WITH WORKERS AT A JUICE FACTORY.
A JUICE FACTORY.
I am dead.
Read if – You like reading.
Avoid if – You’re a dope.
Up next! – Just wanted to give a shout out to Annemarie Ní Churreáin for snail-mailing me a copy of Emilie Pine’s wonderful book, Notes To Self. What a deadly gift! Annemarie is a style icon of mine (though I am a sewer rat and do not dress or write like her) because she is amazing and sophisticated and cool and wise, so wise! And she does things like this for the love of good books! Good on you, Annemarie, and thank you.