Valeria Luiselli, 2015
Translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney, 2015
The Story of My Teeth is a beautifully bound book told in 10 short, but disjointed chapters that unfortunately don’t make any sense or provide any meaningful insight. When I say that this is beautifully bound, I am referring to the actual physical presentation of the book that includes several sketchings of physiologically accurate presentations of uprooted teeth as numerical indicators for each chapter in addition to several black and white full page microscope slide views of histological slices of tissue with additional presentation of aphorisms translated from fortune cookies as well as quotations taken from several famous authors. There are eight pages of this stuff between each chapter and although it is very pretty to look at, this overly excessive and academically experimental presentation should have been a red flag to this reader because The Story of My Teeth is a nothing more than a forced smile with nothing of substance behind it.
I’d like to think that something was lost in translation or that perhaps this wasn’t the right book for me at this stage in my life, but there was so much wrong with this book that I just never found myself finding any interest in it. It actually bored me. At least it was short and the pretty presentation kept me going, but this book felt less like an actual novel and more like a graduate student’s masters thesis in experimentation. Why oh why this is so highly recommended I can’t fathom.
The plot starts out somewhat engaging, the narrator, a young man born with screwed up teeth works for several years as a security guard at a juice factory until he is promoted to become a counselor of sorts. He doesn’t last long in this position and he soon becomes an auctioneer. He boasts that he is the best auctioneer in the world, but he is really just a small time charlatan. He manages to replace his teeth with Marilyn Monroe’s pearly whites and then he auctions off his old teeth to raise money for his church and in the process he auctions himself off to his estranged son who, in an odd set of circumstances, exacts revenge on the father that had abandoned him since childhood. Through all of this we have the auctioneer telling us stories within the story as he is portraying his allegorical style of auctioneering. All of the mini allegorical stories are pretty much meaningless drivel that become excessively annoying as they reveal themselves as opportunities for Luiselli to name-drop different famous authors within the text of the book.
The only take away I got from this story is that The Story of My Teeth is an experimental mess. Only after I read Luiselli’s Afterword, did the light-bulb turn on for me about what was going on here; this is pretentious writing at its worst:
“The Jumex Collection, one of the most important contemporary art collections in the world, is funded by Grupo Jumex – a juice factory. There is naturally a gap between the two worlds: a gallery and a juice factory, artists and workers, artwork and juice. How could I link the two distant but neighboring worlds, and could literature play a mediating role? I decided to write tangentially – even allegorically – about the art world, and to focus on the life of the factory. I also decided to write not so much about but for the factory workers, suggesting a procedure that seemed appropriate to this end.” (192)
Luiselli says it herself, this was an experiment to try to write a book not about but for the working class from the perspective of the artistic class and unfortunately that self-righteous experiment ultimately reveals that this book is really for no one – or at least it wasn’t for me! If that afterword was a forward, I would have been forewarned about what I was getting myself into and could have potentially saved me from this toothless story that had no bite.
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