4 out of 4 stars
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What does an oversexed, vaguely misogynistic, poor but principled writer do when confronted with an comely alien amputee who subsists on human memories? It won’t spoil anything to describe what transpires as an athletic ballet. In his brisk new novel (novella?), The Nobel Prize, Mois Benarroch unravels the delicate tendrils of sanity as they are plucked one by one from a narrator who has too few to spare.
Jorge Acuario is the well respected but underfunded writer in question who punctuates his awkward encounters with lines like, “More and more often I make people laugh without intending to do so, and at night, it made me weep.” Acuario learns in passing that a peripheral spectre from his past, Pablo Pisces, has resurfaced, committed to mental institution where he is taken hostage by the characters of his own novels, who possess him mind and body each day. Some are harmless. One confesses, “I’ve killed someone, many years ago, I’ve killed a woman, because my family said I couldn’t do anything.” Acuario begins to visit Pisces on a regular basis, each time absorbing more of the anguished writer’s sickness.
Acuario finds that he can predict which characters will manifest with Pisces on any given day, and rushes to the institution when he has a premonition that Claudio the suicide is due for a visit. The Nobel Prize is indeed granted in the book, but it’s an afterthought that caps a twisted tale of a shared identity crisis. The line between reality and imagination suffers as Jorge Acuario takes this strange world with him when he leaves the institution. “As in many of these meetings,” he reveals, “I could not convince myself they were real, I was not sure whether I had imagined them, or even written them, at least in my mind. Or if they really happened.”
Benarroch’s dialogue-heavy style makes even some of his digressions breezy reading. Pisces dada-esque phone conversation with a help-line operator alone is worth the price of admission. He evokes the dreamy kind of dread one feels when waking up from a black out drunk as the unsettled brain struggles to maintain consistent focus. The reader will let down her guard just enough to accept the questionable reality that develops.
What if your imagination is your reality, what if it is in your best interest to create characters that seem real enough to you and even more alive to your readers, characters that you could maybe converse with in your mind. What if those characters become detached, free floating, like thoughts, and then maybe in a moment of spiritual or physical weakness, they find you empty and take the opportunity to enter you, to possess you more completely than before. Our self-conception is vulnerable to passing fancy. Couldn’t I as easily be a Gene or a Benjamin instead of an Anthony? What if I had no choice? Benarroch keeps us guessing until the very end, when our narrator comes to terms with the discomfiting flights of random coincidence that plague his daily routine. Benarroch earns 4 out of 4 stars for juggling suspense, sex, and philosophy in a story that, for anyone who has ever loved a character on the page or screen, is eerily, entirely plausible.
The Nobel Prize
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