YFTS: Immersion

(Wrapping up Your Face This Spring, we have a guest post from Neil Griffin, another prolific commenter. Here he articulates why he found the world of Your Face Tomorrow uncommonly absorbing.)

Like Scott guessed in a previous YFTS post, there were readers other than him who skipped ahead and read the book quicker than our planned time-line, and I was one of these book-club-rule-breaking offenders. I didn’t start cheating right away. The first few weeks I assumed that I would stick to the schedule, since I had eased into the book leisurely and enjoyed reading 50 or so pages a week and soaking in the consciousness of Deza in all its anxious and wise glory, and then exiting after the prescribed pages with no symptoms of withdrawal. I was even able to read other unrelated books in between assignments and then pick up from where I left off rather painlessly.

Then Tupra came into the story.

I threw the syllabus into the slow-moving river as soon as Deza was swept into Tupra’s world of shifting identities, translation, interpretation, fever, spears, and, ultimately, poison. There’s a section in the first book, when Deza describes his surveillance where I did indeed feel like I was under some feverish spell, from which I didn’t recover–if indeed I am recovered–until the final page of the third book.

So why did I enter this book so thoroughly?

When I tried to explain the book to my friends they thought me strange for being drawn into this world, which I articulated rather on the nose. In Fever and Spear, for example, I explained the plot, as follows: “There’s a Spaniard living in London who gets invited to a party, where he meets an interesting person, whom he eventually works for. He also finds a spot of blood on the stairs and speaks to his old mentor about the atmosphere during the great war.”

Cue looks of confusion and empty words: oh, sounds like an interesting read.

And my friends’ indifference makes sense on a plot level; there really isn’t much going on externally. But Marias makes the book stick to the reader by bringing up universal thoughts, worries, and anxieties through the medium of Deza’s mind. The thoughts colliding into one another create phenomenal images and wordplay that still circulate through my consciousness, even though I finished this two months ago: the ephemeral snow on shoulders, the slow river, the fever, the scratch, farewell my friends, the dancer, the bathroom of bare legs and brutal assaults, the sword, the murdered baby, baiting the man like a bull, Custardoy’s eyes, and the dormant silence always ready to erupt, while the shadow of the 1930s and 40s remains splattered in the present like the rim of blood, which is the hardest part to remove from my memory.

This is the best way I can articulate the magic of this book: through assorted fragments, gestures, thoughts, and insinuations that have been poured into my mind’s eye like an ecstatic poison.

Recent Posts

Criticism Isn't Free

CR is dedicated to thoughtful, in-depth criticism without regard to what's commercially appealing. It takes tens of hours each month to provide this. Please help make this sort of writing sustainable, either with a subscription or a one-time donation. Thank you!


Got Something To Say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Neil: I’m so glad to find someone found this novel as all-immersing as I did. I’m curious about your statement that, during the first batch of page-assignments, you were able to read other things in between without a problem, and then able to return to YFT without a problem. I experienced the same strange thing. And the same thing that happened to you did me: once we got through half of Volume II, I literally could not stop myself from continuing to read. As I mentioned back towards the end of the assigned Vol. II reading, I literally FORCED myself to not begin Vol. III, but to keep the Marias fix working (which I desperately needed to do), I went and read All Souls and Dark Back of Time, which was a very curious and wonderful experience as there are so many links between those two books and the three volumes of YFT, but then once we started Vol. III, I literally finished it in three nights.

I’m also happy to hear from someone who does not seem to dislike Deza, find him weak or annoying or whatever…I was fascinated with his character, and very much related to him in all his weakness and strength, in all his rumination and drifting, and in all his doubt, fear, fever, the word, pain, sleep and dream…

Thanks for a great post!

THE POSTERS!!!! Take a look at this link (I hope it will take here in comments): http://www.nydailynews.com/news/ny_crime/2010/07/16/2010-07-16_82yearold_14_others_arrested_in_80_million_medicare_scheme_cops.html

It’s from today’s NY Daily News–look at the photo at the top of the article–it’s an old poster warning people not to talk–almost exactly like some of those Marias included in YFT–this has to do with a health clinic scam, but I was so stunned to see the photo of this poster so prominently…I love it when a book I read suddenly begins echoing for me across the culture’s present moment…

RJH: Interesting that you mention this. A number of times since we began our group read of YFT, I’ve remarked on how our posters from our “war” on terror contrast those from WWII. All the ones I see exhort you to talk at the least provocation . . . be it a bag sitting unaccompanied, some shady person glancing around, or just a sensation you have that all is not right, these signs always call on you to tell someone in authority immediately. Speak! they say, where Marias’ signs tell you, Silence!

Scott–I know exactly what you mean. Here in NYC the word around town since 9/11 has been the ubiquitous “if you see something, say something,” which in my darker moods makes me think it’s turned all of us into paranoid Pynchon characters…So I was of course doubly shocked to see the image about keeping mum, staying silent, in the Daily News…It was just such a shocking image to see, precisely because of the “speak!” culture we’re in now, as you note, and also because of the proximity of my reading of YFT with its “Silence”…On the other hand, I do find myself wondering if the whole “Speak” culture is not really the exact opposite of the “Silence” campaigns of WWII, but rather their evil twin…encouraging us to inform on each other, while in the meantime our governments are clandestinely spying on our e-mail and cell phone calls, tracking our library lists and our credit card receipts, looking for the least hint that we may have engaged in some way with “the enemy”–the equivalent of Tupra’s videos of people’s dark behavior being saved for some future use…But alas, this space is too small for an extended conversation of such!

The Latin American Mixtape

5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

Shop though these links = Support this site

Copyright © 2015. Powered by WordPress & Romangie Theme.