Publisher: Open Letter Books. June 2012
Genre: Literary fiction
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A very strange and surreal book. I don't really know how to explain the plot, so I'll let the publisher do it for me:
When he reads about a mysterious explosion in the distant countryside, the narrator’s thoughts turn to his disappeared childhood friend, M, who was abducted from his home years ago, during a spasm of political violence in Buenos Aires in the early 1970s. He convinces himself that M must have died in this explosion, and he begins to tell the story of their friendship through a series interconnected vignettes, hoping in this way to reanimate his friend and relive the time they spent together wandering the streets of Buenos Aires.Ok, that sounds about right. But this book isn't so much about the politics in Buenos Aires. This book is about memory, friendship, and loss. The narrator goes over many different segmented memories of himself and his time with his friend, M. The book meanders around, sharply focusing on certain instances for a while, then tumbles right into a new memory. I was tugged about by the narrator's thoughts, not by any real chronology. The unconventional structure was difficult at first, but it sort of parallels how memories really are.
The Planets was definitely a slow read, but I do believe that it was worth it. Sometimes I would get so wrapped up in the strange stories told about M, or told by M with no apparent connection to any reality, that I wouldn't be able to stop thinking about them for the rest of the day. They seem hard to tie together as you're reading them, but taking the time to concentrate while reading definitely becomes worth it by the end. The narrator comes more clearly into focus, time starts to align, and we essentially see the impact of M's disappearance. I almost gave up on the book at the beginning, but I'm glad that I didn't.
"They say that one could avoid innumerable problems, mistakes, and catastrophes if one knew how things were going to turn out, but this is an impossible dream. The most extreme example of this is that we are all certain of death -- and even, expanding things a bit, about the decline of civilization, the destruction of the environment, and the inevitable ostracism of the sun -- but are still unable to avoid the end. What keeps us from losing hope in the face of this inescapable truth? A belief in the interim, in the fact that, in the meantime, things happen that are worth experiencing."
Outlandishness Rating: 7/10
The structure definitely makes this a weird book, but I think the memories that stick with the narrator make them weirder. But, at the same time, which memories stand out can reflect how certain things can't be known to be important until long after they happen.
If you have the time to slowly read, and you don't mind a bit of philosophizing, I think this book is worth a shot. Especially if you have weird hang ups about/interest in memory. Like I do.