Translated by Christina MacSweeney
Mixing art and literature, surrealism and reality, this book by Valeria Luiselli will have you devouring every detail of Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez Sánchez’s story. We see into the mind of Highway and how he chooses to interpret his life, and later what the reality truly was. Set in Mexico, we follow Highway as he goes from working in a juice factory to taking courses to become an auctioneer. As his style develops, we start to realize that what value something has can vary, importance is tied to meaning. This is a story about stories. Being inside Highway’s mind is like an oral history that changes details each time it’s told, you start to forget what the original details were, but it doesn’t really matter. With this book, Valeria is challenging art and the ideas of translation, ownership, and value.
As Highway is enjoying some time in Miami after working an auction, he winds up at a contraband memorabilia auction and purchases Marilyn Monroe’s teeth (which of course are fake). After being ashamed of his crooked teeth, these are now his most prized possession and has them immediately implanted to replace his own. An enjoyable part of the book is when he reviews his large collection and chooses to auction off his old teeth at a church to benefit both himself and the church. Each tooth, or lot, is sold using the hyperbolic method and each spiel he gives becomes it’s own short story within the chapter. The Hyperbolic method, which is described as “a fissure in the relationship between style and reality”, is essentially how Highway lives his life. There are a series of odd events, which are very entertaining surprises. These lead up to Highway meeting a writer named Jacobo de Voragine. Highway offers him lodging and an education of the town’s stories in return for him writing the autobiography of his teeth. The last chapter is from Voragine’s view and the distortion of Highway’s reality becomes apparent. Seeing this other side, now we feel equally sad and happy for Highway’s life.
TL:DR- Highway lived life how he auctioned, he wasn’t lying, but he was transcending the truth. A fascinating story intertwining art in a subtle yet prominent way.
Review by Katie Holland, who is a Chicago based artist, creative mind and bookworm.
Publication Date: September 15, 2015 Page Count: 195
ISBN: 566894093 Publisher: Coffeehouse Press