Just yesterday Scott Esposito published his review of Personae in the Washington Post.
He really likes De La Pava and gives the book as glowing a review as possible. He manages to describe more accurately than any other review I’ve seen exactly what all is in the book:
Like its predecessor, “Personae” begins with the investigation of a crime: Detective Helen Tame arrives at a Manhattan apartment where Antonio Arce, over a century old, has died. She eventually acquires Arce’s notebook, and in due time we read the impressionistic memoir at its heart, but only after meandering through excerpts from Tame’s scholarly paper on Bach and Glenn Gould, a short story about swimming out to sea, a two-act Beckettian play, Tame’s explanation of Arce’s death and two obituaries. The book’s final 50 pages — Arce’s memoir — take us from a suicide mission in the jungles of Colombia to a love story in New York City and feature some of the finest writing of De La Pava’s burgeoning career.
Split unevenly among Tame’s section, Arce’s section and an 83-page absurdist play, “Personae,” is united more by its themes than by any one narrative. The play is the strangest and most difficult part of this book. It involves several mental patients engaged in furious conversation. A gun is introduced in Act I and fired in Act II. There’s also a spearing, a gender change, a severed head and an eerie drumbeat that may herald disaster. In spite of all that, what looms largest is the play’s obsessively recursive dialogue, which opens with several pages of argumentation about what everyone’s name is.
This challenging play is balanced by the portrayal of Tame’s and Arce’s extraordinary minds. Tame, who begins playing the piano at age 5 and gives world-class performances at 20 before quitting to become a detective, comes across as a methodical and quirky cop. Similarly, Arce, a commando of superhuman strength and an exquisite writer, is nonetheless tongue-tied at the sight of a beautiful woman.
De La Pava presents characters widely separated by time and space and then shows us how they become drawn into one another’s lives, despite the odds. Most of all, he inquires into why people fight to comprehend others they barely know.
But even a die-hard fan has to concede defeat sometimes and Esposito does: “But “Personae” is not completely successful.” He gives a few reasons why, but not enough.
At the end Esposito still praises the author he helped “find:” “De La Pava is proof that experimental literature can be devilishly entertaining.”
In a review for the November issue of The American Reader, Esposito gives a very negative review of Marías’s Infatuations.