Saturday, March 07, 2009

César Aira: Ghosts

Natasha Wimmer reviews César Aira's Ghosts

The Argentine novelist César Aira is the Duchamp of Latin American literature, a light-footed experimentalist who follows a credo of improvisation and constant forward motion, plotting as he goes and turning out at least two short novels a year. His agenda is subversive, but his brutal humor and off-kilter sense of beauty make his stories slip down like spiked cream puffs. The violent culinary imagery is apt: this is a writer who drowns characters in vats of strawberry ice cream (in the surreally autobiographical "How I Became a Nun"). As Roberto Bolaño, his contemporary, said, "Once you've read Aira, you want to keep reading Aira."

"Ghosts," the latest installment in Aira's project, is an exercise in queasiness, a heady, vertigo-inducing fantasia. Set on the roof of a half-finished luxury apartment building in Buenos Aires, it takes place over the course of a single day. On a New Year's Eve morning of "high childishness," the future owners of the apartments visit the construction site, wandering from room to room. Most of the walls are up, but there are no doors or windows or flooring, and the raw strangeness of naked concrete is the first warning that the reader has entered Aira's makeshift universe.

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