The People Of Paper
The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia is one of my favorite books. I keep coming back to it every couple of years. It continues to give me nourishment every time I pick it up. In 2005 I bought this beautiful hardback copy with red foil embellishment on the cover. Already a McSweeney's fan, I had just graduated art school, and this book struck all the right cords. It was filled with loneliness, longing, mediations on the magic of paper, beautiful graphic design with unconventional typography.
In the prologue, a boy brings his butchered cat back to life by folding a paper heart. He becomes an origami surgeon who's last act and masterpiece is to fold a living woman out of paper. At the end of her construction, as she takes her first steps, he dies from extreme paper cuts. She walks away into rain without looking back at her dying creator.
The book follows many characters and storylines: Federico de la Fe, his daughter Little Merced, and their gang of carnation picking field workers from El Monte. A baby Nostradamus, a curandero of the local mystical botanica. A girl addicted to honeybee stings - pressing bees into her skin which cause her to emanate a glowing halo. An origami woman and all her lovers. A fictionalized account of Rita Hayworth. The planet Saturn, who is oppressing all the characters within the book, and is later revealed to be the author Salvador Plascencia himself, omnisciently watching from the sky. Its a little Charlie Kauffman-esque at times. All the characters describe themselves in first-person, and the text switches between irregular columns in multiple directions and regular full page blocks. After reading this novel, I had trouble going back to more conventional reads.
The Baby Nostradamus teaches Little Merced how to block Saturn from reading her thoughts, and as she grows stronger at doing so, large solid blocks of ink begin to cover her narrative columns. They start small and appear to drift, eventually covering all her text.
When the author's ex-girlfriend speaks the name of her new partner, we can't see it, because the word has been die-cut out. When I came across the first hole, I was amazed - the name is literally cut out of the book.
In a turn towards metafiction, the author's ex-girlfriend rises up in protest against him, and demands to be removed from the story. Halfway through the novel, the title and dedication pages are reinserted. The story resumes - minus their personal relationship - getting back to the other characters.
There is so much sadness in this book, but also insightful self-examination. Eventually Sal lets go, and reveals that in his pain he is making his ex out to be much worse than she is. He lets her have a voice and speak her peace. He acknowledges his flaws, and releases a bit of his self-righteousness.
"She wondered why, in a novel, where so many things are possible, her fate was such an unimaginative one. But she knew why. This was the fate of women who knew too much, women who can upset the pride of Saturn. Because ultimately Saturn is a tyrant, commanding the story where he wants it to go."
As the authors of our own lives, we tend to always feel we are in the right, and my most recent take away from this story is that I'm not. We've got to remember to see things from the point of views of others which can feel bad, as we are all flawed. How wonderful, however, that we can learn from this examination, improve, and move on.