cover image Personae


Sergio De La Pava. Univ. of Chicago, $17 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-226-07899-1

De La Pava’s (A Naked Singularity) shape-shifting latest is, in part, an upbeat existentialist comedy. We meet Detective Helen Tame (in a chapter titled “Our Heroine and Her Work,” no less) as she investigates a crime scene, before diving into the writings Tame discovers at the victim’s house. Notebook scribblings include pronouncements against “filling [writing] with allusive arcana for dimwit professors.” Next, a short story depicts a professor musing about loss and posterity as, during a swim, the tide carries him farther and farther from shore. Then, a play, making up almost half the book, presents personae with descriptions like “A person,” “Another person,” “The first person plural”; sometimes they alternate identities (Adam and Not-Adam are one and the same). The characters are trapped, à la No Exit, in an unidentifiable “here,” debating Sartrean questions about where, who, and why they are, misunderstanding and echoing one another at a hilarious, absurd pitch. But then the novel changes tone, which is appropriate considering it’s already run the gamut of perspectives, genres, and techniques. The conclusions for Helen and the victim, and especially the novella, which wraps up the book, are darker, and more touching. Game readers should have as much fun with this clever experiment as the author seems to have had inventing it, and be challenged by his more serious and troubling questions. (Oct.)