Two books, both alike in dignity, but distinct indeed. Try as I might, reviews are beyond my powers so what follows are instead impressions, appreciative and wonderstruck.
A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause by Shawn Wen is about a mime. It's about the mime of the past century, Marcel Marceau, an artist and enchanter who dedicated his life to this curious genre. It's a book told in fragments where the ink is enshrined in plenty of white space on the page, the way I like. It deals in artistry, in the sacrifices of the artist. Ideas of body, theater, stage. Play, disguise, the false and the real with blurred distinction. Comedy and its kinship with tragedy. The story, compact but dense, has its moments of heartbreak though you wouldn't think the life of a mime could be so haunting. Wen on every page is a poet taking on the task of journalist or biographer, true to her roots in radio. And she does it with breathtaking empathy.
Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra: a book in the form of standardized test. But it avoids gimmick and skirts the edges of heartbreak, again and again. It is about family and fatherhood and the fucked up and deeply sad history of Pinochet-era Chile. All while sounding weary to the bone, a Pisco shot from cynical. We swim in his head with no plot or character as crutch, gathering shards of a whole, left to wonder about the girl he divorced, the children he had, his teenage years. We fill in the blanks quite literally, and are left to ponder not just the story but the very act of word choice, writer's choice, reader's choice, life choice, until we are left with heads spinning around the unsaid, undone: what if, what if?