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Personae: A Novel

Personae: A Novel

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Personae: A Novel

256 página
2 horas
Sep 30, 2013


Sergio De La Pava’s A Naked Singularity was one of the most highly praised debut novels in decades. The Wall Street Journal called it “a propulsive, mind-bending experience,” and named it one of the ten best books of the year. The Toronto Star did the same, calling it “a great American novel: large, ambitious, and full of talk.” In Slate, Paul Ford proclaimed,“It’s a fine thing for an author to bring forth something so unapologetically maximalist.”  
This book is nothing like that one. Just look at it: A Naked Singularity was a brick of a book, 678 pages, and this one’s slim--lean and focused. A Naked Singularity locked us into the unforgettable voice of its protagonist, Casi, while Personae shimmers and shifts among different perspectives, locations, and narrative techniques.

But sharp readers will quickly see that the two books are the work of the same hand. The sheer energy of De La Pava’s sentences, his eye for absurd humor, his commitment to the idea of justice--all will be familiar here as they carry us from the tale of an obsessive, damaged psychic detective consumed by a murder case, into a Sartrean drama that raises questions (and jokes) about responsibility, fate, death, and more. And when De La Pava eventually returns us to the investigation, this time seen from the other side, the lives and deaths bound up in it feel all the more real, and moving, even as solid answers slip away into mist.
Shelf Awareness
declared that A Naked Singularity "heralded the arrival of a tremendous talent." In some ways, despite its brevity, Personae is even more surprising and challenging--and, in its ambition and fierce intelligence, it’s proof that Sergio De La Pava is here to stay.

Sep 30, 2013

Sobre el autor

Serg io De La Pava (1971) nació en New Jersey, Estados Unidos, de padres colombianos. En 2008 autopublicó Una singularidad desnuda; una muy elog iosa reseña aparecida en The Quaterly Conversation desper tó el interés de los lectores y las editoriales, y en 2012 la novela fue publicada por The Univer sity of Chicago Press. La recepción de la crítica fue notable, y el respaldo definitivo vino con los premios: Una singularidad desnuda ganó el Believer Book Award 2012, fue finalista del Folio Prize 2014 en el Reino Unido y ganó el prestigioso Premio Pen 2013 en Estados Unidos a la mejor primera novela. En 2011 De La Pava autopublicó Personae , su segunda novela, que en 2013 la incluyó en su catálogo The Univer sity of Chicago Press, y desde entonces ha sido leída con sor presa y admiración. De La Pava vive en Nueva York y trabaja como abogado de oficio en la corte penal de Manhattan.

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Personae - Sergio De La Pava



Our Heroine and Her Work

The ensuing is the report of one Detective Helen Tame. I am Helen Tame, the ensuing is my report, and it is not true that this second sentence adds nothing to the first. I should note at the outset that this Department is obsessed with reports and I am not; if I had to cop to any obsession it would be with Truth. Truth in its multifarious instantiations, ranging from simple if inviolable mathematical truths to other less evident yet persistently attractive ones. How it is true that a three-year-old’s smile is an unambiguous good whereas decades later those same lips must first be parsed, how certain narrative memories will attach to an extant piece of music and refuse to ever again let go, but mostly how an unexplained human death nonetheless retains a core truth that can be teased into discovery. What I do is make these discoveries then, because of the above-mentioned obsession, write about them:

The apartment I responded fn1 to was a Manhattan special, meaning you cannot believe a human being who is not incarcerated is not entitled to more space. I am here because of blood, blood that makes little sense. John Doe is on the kitchen floor but Mr. Doe is so obviously and severely weathered, so far along his now conclusive personal timeline, that his status as a DOA would occasion no mystery remotely warranting the tentatively solicitous phone call I received but for, again, the blood.

There is blood just above the molding in the hall leading to the kitchen and less in other spots but none in the kitchen. P.O. Avery is correct and seems pleased.

They said call you in these instances, just this morning in fact. I say nothing because I’m mildly curious what he will add. The resulting silence causes him stress he’s unaware of and he says, "I took the number down. Everybody was kind of taken aback you know? Since day one it’s been call crime scene, you know, don’t touch anything just call. Then suddenly today it’s call you instead if attendant circumstances suggest that a high degree of notoriety will attach to the case or resolution of the matter will prove particularly thorny, that last part starting with attendant my sergeant read from a piece of paper, he doesn’t talk like that."

I am slowly walking throughout the apartment and while it is true I can attend to two matters at once, that is, I can listen to Avery’s noise and still begin making the necessary observations and thoughts, I would prefer not to, that the thoughts may be richer, and for that I will have to speak. I turn to look at him directly. His pupils dilate and he has somehow managed to bore me further. He is still talking.

I told him I had to disagree you know? Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great partner and all, he is glancing at him in the hall, maybe thinking great was too strong. "But I told him that I think this is exactly what they were talking about this morning with the thing with the attending circumstances. Because I think that’s blood, fresh blood at that, and yet it doesn’t appear to have come from the body, the deceased, the decedent I mean."

Stop talking, I say, and he does. I am putting on gloves I designed years ago, gloves that only became the industry standard once I relented and let my name attach to them even though their physical makeup changed not in the slightest between reluctance and acquiescence, and staring at a clean spot on the carpet. You can go now, I add, but he hesitates. "That means leave in Etiquette."

"Just that, well, they didn’t really say what to do after calling you. In other words, does calling you, uh, obviate the need to call CSU? Do I fill out a report?"


Nothing about what constitutes proper procedure from here on out you know? So I’m at a bit of a loss.

"More than a bit I’d say, so here’s a chance for some gain. You weren’t given further procedure because this is the end of the line for you. Once you call me and, more importantly, I come, then I alone make the determination of what constitutes, as you say, proper procedure going forward. Make sense?"


So I am repeating my invitation to you to join your partner in the hall, then the street, then your RMP, to continue providing service and protection.


Well done.

With permission to add that when I started I told myself that to the extent I made errors they would be errors of commission and not omission.

He’d made the relevant O a little too long during which I diagnosed ambition and felt remorse. You did well officer, I say. "It is blood and in highly suggestive locations, good work." I then take him by the elbow like a child, a quite involuntary sin of condescension that requires I atone by asking who his sergeant is then indicating I will deposit positive impressions there, and take him to the hall where I close the door before the partner can even form the intent to speak.

Now I’m tired. Even minimal social niceties exhaust me and the commitment to future such interactions doesn’t help. I am walking about the apartment collecting. I touch nothing, I am collecting observations and placing them in my mind. Once they’ve all been crowded in I’ll order them, connect them where appropriate, delete the irrelevant, promote the critical, and begin the circuitously ineffable process of forming conclusions.

The apartment is essentially two rooms. In one, a kitchen with a refrigerator and oven that look like toy models opens into the maybe two-hundred square feet of combination living/dining room. The other is the bedroom, notable at first blush primarily for the absence of any bed frame for the mattress on the floor in the corner. Bathroom of toilet, sink, shower, ends the tour, with only the medicine cabinet intriguing me and not greatly.

Can’t say the same for other things I’ve seen, however. For example, the main room has a piano and not a bad one. The same man who slept on the floor owned a piano. But not a television or computer. There’s a radio, old as sin, the kind that looks like it was manufactured to report on the progress of the Allies. The sofa facing it has recently been cleared of considerable clutter. Not so the coffee table which seems almost comprised of newspapers and magazines. The carpet is wall-to-wall and gold with the clean spot I mentioned.

I go to the kitchen and the body on its floor. The body is splayed almost prototypically, the right arm reaching up as if hoping to be called on. In the withered hand an open orange bottle of pills, pills on the ground, pills in the yawning mouth. No label on the bottle, no identifying features on the pills. Left hand palm-down on the floor near his waist. Medium-sized white tee shirt and pajama pants, nothing else. Eighteen pills total between bottle, floor, and mouth. Right side of face on the floor so I put a digital thermometer in his left ear. Beep and eighty-two degrees confirms he’s been dead an hour and forty minutes. I squeeze his left thigh and estimate the density of his femur. I look at his face and open the eyes to see their reddish scleras.

He is more than a century old; was.

I walk away, to the other side of the counter where I sit on a stool and look into the kitchen. I forgot to close the eyes and now he is staring at me. The last thing he saw was dirty cracked linoleum but follow his eyes now and you can reach the Sun.

Someone is at the door. As they come in I stand and move away from the counter. There are steps you can take to stand in plain view without being seen, just as you can follow someone quite closely without them noticing, provided you understand the behavior of soundwaves and take care to maintain proper angles.fn2

A tall woman walks in. She is leading a girl by the hand. They are dressed in almost costume plainness and as they pass the kitchen they merely glance at the body before entering the room I’m in. I contemplate speaking but decide I don’t want to influence events, just want to see what will develop in my absence.

They are looking for something but the girl is merely mimicking the adult without comprehension. She is nine or ten. After the woman opens and closes a drawer the girl will then reopen and close that same drawer without looking in. They are done and go into the bedroom holding nothing. I have not been seen.

In the bedroom they engage in the same conduct with the same result. They say nothing but look at each other often. The woman puts her hand to the child’s face and, with a thumb, wipes her cheek. They sit on the mattress, saying nothing, holding hands. When they rise the girl is holding something and I, who have stared continuously at her face since first locking on to it well, cannot account for the acquisition.

It is a white package and it is secured shut by twine in the form of a bakery box. She is carrying it and they are walking towards me. I decide to let them see me and to investigate, I am interested. Then I step aside and they walk past. They walk past the kitchen. The woman stares straight ahead as they pass but the girl drops her head back to look. They open the door and leave. I stare at the door. Time passes. I go to the window but see no one. I have made my first mistake in a long time and that excites me with possibility.

There is nothing that blatantly indicates where the white box came from. The piano bench, for example, doubles as storage but is sufficiently full that there was no possible room for the box the girl carried so forlornly. In the bench is a notebook. A music notebook with ledger lines forming grand staffs. Written by hand, in pencil and recently, is an aria I recognize immediately but have not played in years. I take off my gloves and sit at the bench. I play it straight through once, at first using his music then from memory, the notes surprising and moving me as I remember why I stopped playing them. Then again, but this time more deliberately, allowing some notes to fade to near silence before being replaced. I begin a variation out of order then stop. The aria is the only music in the notebook. This is a coincidence but coincidences don’t impress me or cause me the slightest

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