The Short Version: Omar Razaghi would like to write an authorized biography of little-known Latin American novelist Jules Gund. In fact, his career somewhat depends on it. But when he goes to Uruguay to seek authorization from the executors of Gund’s estate – his brother, his wife, and his mistress – he runs into a spot of trouble convincing them. But the trip ends up being about more than the book – it’s about Omar’s life itself.
The Review: A friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in several years pulled this book off her shelf at a party at her apartment several weeks ago and thrust it into my face, pointing at a particular paragraph some 30-ish pages in. “I’ve only just started this, but this… I think you have to read this.” The writing was smooth and simple, like a warm breeze off a lake, and I (always interested in recommendations from friends) procured a copy as soon as I could.
It’s a deceptively slight book, seeming to barely (if at all) fill its just-over-300-page length. Not a whole lot happens, per se. This author wrote a book – quite good but, you know, only modestly known – and killed himself after trying to write another. This dysfunctional trio live together down in Uruguay – well, the brother (Adam) lives down the road a bit with his young partner, Peter – and it’s all a bit… well, it’s all a bit strange. There are echoes of Bolaño here, for sure – the setting and the slightly skewed lives these people are living, especially – but I think I felt, the whole time, that I wanted more of that. I wanted it to be as frustrating and memorable as either of the Bolaño works I’ve read thus far and it just… wasn’t.
This may be a problem of artificially raised expectations – expectations this book could not have ever, really, met. But how, then, am I to address this book itself? Most of it is consumed by Omar confusedly navigating the (never clearly addressed) sexual/familial politics of the Gund clan and trying to get them to change their minds and back his project. Adam supported it from the start, Arden changes her mind basically right after she meets him… and so the wife, Caroline, is left to convince.
There’s also a strange and plodding interlude where Omar’s girlfriend flies to Uruguay to help him because he was stung by a bee and had the most intense allergic reaction I’ve ever heard of. And then SPOILERS, I GUESS, he decides not to write the book after all.
See, the thing is… I think this book is supposed to be about love. About our relationships with people and how “love” manifests itself in various ways. Caroline clearly still loves Jules – she doesn’t want to give any more of him up than she already has. Adam, of course – and he also loves Peter, which is why he wants to let him go. Arden loves her daughter and falls magically, basically in-first-sight-y, in love with Omar. They have a single awkward kiss and it throws both of them for this wild knockout loop. And I’m a pretty huge romantic, so when I say that I just didn’t buy it… there was something wrong about all of it. Deirdre, the girlfriend, was annoying and spoke so artificially that she felt less than two-dimensional, too.
It feels, upon reflection, as though Cameron was aiming for something and never quite got there. He wanted a wispy, ethereal, summery love story that also involved literature and family and hijinks! but instead ended up with the first bits – the wispy bits – and the latter stuff but never quite landed the love story. There was nothing convincing about it and for Omar to give it all up felt just… wrong. It felt wrong.
But then (not unlike the way Ian McEwan jumps in Atonement, although it’s handled far less twistingly) we fast-forward. Caroline in New York. Omar makes a big decision. And then we jump forward again and get this little teaser of how things worked out… and that was my favorite part of the book. There was this whole other world, this sense of short-story about it, that made it an immensely satisfying conclusion. I put the book down wondering why the rest of it couldn’t have been so satisfying.
Rating: 3 out of 5. I enjoyed it and there are (as attracted me initially) some beautiful passages. And I do like the thoughts that were spurred in my head of what it means to love, how we love, why we love. But I just never felt like this was anything more than a passing moment – one of those books read and, inevitably, forgotten before long.