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The Enigmatic World of “The People Of Paper”

A Magical Journey through Salvador Plascencia’s Debut Novel

Unveiling the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

In the realm of magical realism, where limitless possibilities reign, the element of surprise can often be lost. Salvador Plascencia’s captivating debut novel, “The People of Paper,” introduces readers to a universe where extraordinary occurrences become commonplace. We encounter a woman crafted entirely from paper, a young girl who experiences death and resurrection, and a fleet of mechanical tortoises. As the narrative unfolds, a diverse cast of characters takes turns weaving their tales, each column of words representing a distinct voice. Yet, they all share a common thread: the voice of “creative writing.”

A Unique Blend of Styles

Plascencia’s writing initially flirts with a pseudo-biblical declamatory style, reminiscent of ancient origins. “She was created after the era of ribs and mud. By papal decree, no longer would people be born from the earth or the marrow of bones.” This evokes the extraordinary prose reminiscent of the renowned novelist Ben Marcus. However, Plascencia’s approach lacks the uncompromising density and richness found in Marcus’s work. Instead, it prioritizes accessibility and aims to please a wider audience. Enter Antonio, the world’s first “origami surgeon,” and his creation, Merced de Papel, the paper woman. Throughout the story, we are repeatedly reminded of the unintended consequences faced by those who engage in intimate acts with Merced, leaving them with painful paper cuts on their tongues. One would think they’d warn each other.

Uncovering the True Heroes

Merced, though captivating, is not the true heroine of the tale. That distinction perhaps belongs to Federico de la Fe, a resident of El Monte, a small town on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Abandoned by his wife due to his nocturnal enuresis, Federico attempts to alleviate his sorrow through self-immolation. Meanwhile, his daughter, Little Merced, develops an addiction to devouring limes. Plascencia’s narrative brims with a splendid array of peculiar and delightful imagery. However, his vivid imagination lacks the cohesion of rhythm. Each idea is presented at a uniformly rushed pace, unable to establish a clear sense of priority. It is akin to leafing through a catalog of conceptual artwork—entertaining but ultimately lacking sustenance.

Insights from Baby Nostradamus

Enter Baby Nostradamus, whose contributions manifest as blocks of enigmatic gray ink. Ink-blotted pages! Laurence Sterne, if only you were alive in this era. It becomes apparent that “The People of Paper” is an “experimental” novel, adhering to a conventionally unconventional approach. (Everything changes, except for the avant-garde.) Naturally, the author himself emerges onto the pages. Federico de la Fe wages a personal war against Saturn, the planet surveilling his private sorrow. Unexpectedly, Saturn transforms into a representation of “Salvador Plascencia.” The novel we are embarking on becomes a mixture of revenge and a heartfelt love letter addressed to “Liz,” the one who left him. While there is no universal rule against authors featuring in their own literary creations, the successful execution of such a feat, as demonstrated by Bret Easton Ellis in the brilliantly funny “Lunar Park,” often relies on the existence of a well-known character by the author’s own name. In contrast, readers may approach Plascencia’s work with little preconceived notions about “Salvador Plascencia” himself. So, does any of this truly matter? Does it ignite our curiosity? For this reader, the answer was no.

A Return to the Vibrant World of El Monte

Thankfully, we can swiftly shift our attention away from this adolescent angst and immerse ourselves once again in the vibrant universe of El Monte. Plascencia unleashes his lyrical prowess, vividly capturing the sensations of pungent fluids and textures: the tang of citrus juice, the crimson flow of blood, the acrid scent of urine, the earthy aroma of baked dirt and wet soil. In El Monte, its inhabitants wage a silent battle against the omnipotent narrator, against the intrusion of “omniscient narration.” The townsfolk devise a plan to expel Saturn from the pages, using the weight of their collective voices to squeeze his words into an ever-shrinking box. Finally, the novel gains momentum, offering a dramatic and visually striking climax. It evokes images of rebellious Sims uniting against their creator—a concept reminiscent of Flann O’Brien’s “At Swim-Two-Birds.” Yet, one cannot help but wish for a swifter resolution in this instance.

As we journey through “The People of Paper,” we are immersed in a world that merges the surreal with the ordinary. Plascencia’s writing showcases moments of brilliance, packed with charming imagery, but at times, the narrative lacks the harmonious rhythm needed to fully captivate its audience. Nevertheless, the undeniable allure and inventiveness of the story make it a worthwhile exploration for those seeking a departure from conventional literary norms.

Quill And Fox