cover image The Story of My Teeth

The Story of My Teeth

Valeria Luiselli, trans. from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney. Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-56689-409-8

One of the most unforgettable images in any book this year is that of Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez Sánchez, the protagonist of Luiselli’s delightfully unclassifiable novel, walking around the streets of Mexico City, smiling at people with the teeth of Marilyn Monroe installed in his mouth—teeth he won at an “auction of contraband memorabilia in a karaoke bar in Little Havana.” Auctioneering is Highway’s trade, and, according to him, he’s the best at what he does because he’s a “lover and collector of good stories, which is the only honest way of modifying the value of an object.” Luiselli’s novel takes the same liberties with traditional storytelling as Highway: this isn’t so much a novel as a contorted collection of narrative yarns. In one section, Highway auctions 10 of his original teeth (remember, he has Marilyn Monroe’s in his mouth), passing them off as the teeth of Virginia Woolf, Plato, and G.K. Chesterton, among others. In another section, Highway creates allegories using various auction lots, including a prosthetic leg, as starting points, which quickly spin out and feature a who’s who of real Spanish-language writers. In one, the Argentine writer Alan Pauls talks about horse depression; in another, Mexican novelist Yuri Herrera is a policewoman; Luiselli’s parents put on rat and mouse costumes and have “outlandish, noisy, uninterrupted coitus.” These off-the-wall turns are surprising and charming, but, above all, there is an insatiable hunger for storytelling in these pages. Luiselli’s (Faces in the Crowd) novel so completely buys into its conceit—the author herself makes an appearance in an allegory as a 15-year-old “mediocre high school student [who] stammered and overused the suffix -ly”—that it’s difficult not to follow wherever it takes you. (Sept.)