cover image The Crossed-Out Notebook

The Crossed-Out Notebook

Nicolas Giacobone, trans. from the Spanish by Megan McDowell. Scribner, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-1-501-19874-8

Giacobone, who co-wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for Birdman, contributes a mind-bending addition to the Latin American tradition of metafiction in his clever debut. Pablo Betances, a talented but unknown screenwriter, believes he’s had a lucky break when his friend’s girlfriend passes his screenplay to famous film director Santiago Salvatierra. Instead, Salvatierra kidnaps Pablo and imprisons him in his basement, forcing him to write a screenplay that Salvatierra intends to take credit for. Pablo is brought sustenance by the housekeeper (whose cooking gives him hemorrhoids), listens to The Beatles on repeat, and has endless arguments with Salvatierra about plot ideas and edits to the screenplays he is being forced to write. After five years in his basement prison, during which time he’s written two successful screenplays, he is tasked with writing his final screenplay: the one that will change the history of film and cement Salvatierra’s reputation as the greatest director/writer in the world. While a movie is eventually made, it subverts both Pablo and Salvatierra’s ideas of what filmmaking can be. Pablo’s journal entries detailing his ridiculous situation and creative anxiety are humorous, insightful, and pointedly sardonic as he draws from and imitates with delightful absurdity the writing of Samuel Beckett and Jorge Luis Borges. Giacobone’s superb novel entertainingly dredges the neural recesses of how art is created, what it means to be authentic, and if potential can ever truly be harnessed. (Sept.)