While reading Salvador Plascencia’s People of Paper, Gabriel García Márquez’s short story A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings came to mind because while Froggy is depicting the story of his break-up with Sandra and going to a curandero, the curandero gives Froggy an Oaxacan songbird to which Froggy says,
Despite the bird shit and the colony of ticks that clung to its wings, the bird’s perpetual song, sung even when it was perched and its eyelids shut, helped to alleviate some of the loneliness Sandra had left. (Plascencia 67)
I made a connection with the quotation to García Márquez’s story because García Márquez depicts the fallen angel full of fleas and ticks, yet it can also seem different to García Márquez’s short story because the Angel is made a spectacle of and not treasured as much as Froggy treasures the bird for healing his heartbroken soul. Yet, in the end García Márquez’s story and Froggy’s story both end up saved by this magical creature with wings.
Manfred Jahn states that,
isochronous presentation (‘of equal duration’; also congruent presentation, isochrony), [is] story time and discourse time [that] are approximately equal or rhythmically mapped. (Jahn N5.2.3)
Finding isochronous presentations in novels are not difficult to come by because most texts have dialogues and detailed action scenes, except, this becomes difficult when reading Salvador Plascencia’s novel since he gives each character in his novel power as a narrator and most of the texts deal with the character’s ideas and thoughts at that particular moment. This is true for all the characters except for Federico de la Fe, whose voice the audience captures through other characters in the story. For example, in Froggy’s testimonial of events he states, ““Right now, as I say this, we are part of Saturn’s story. Saturn owns it. We are being listened to and watched, our lives sold as entertainment.”/ Federico de la Fe said.” (Plascencia 53) This quotation proves to be the essence of what Plascencia’s novel is about because while he says that, Plascencia who from the beginning is Saturn, turns the reader into Saturn as well because the audience finally gets the chance to see de la Fe’s intentions and thoughts.
Time becomes a very important theme in Salvador Plascencia’s novel because every narrator within the text some sort of reference to time such as the Glue Sniffer who states, “After Misueño and I left the lead shell, I continued Federico de la Fe’s treatment for a week and I regained control of my stomach.”(Plascencia 29) And Little Merced dotes on the passage of time by illustrating her father’s appearance, “By the time my father left the lead shell, he smelled like old japanese combustion engines that the mechanics worked on. His face was fuzzy and he had developed an allergic reaction to the metal…” ( Plascencia 31) We also get the sense that time within the novel is not synchronized through Froggy’s character who is known and Froggy in some chapters and Froggy El Veterano, which means Veteran translated into English, in others.
In Severo Sarduy’s Cobra and Maitreya, Sarduy uses what Manfred Jahn calls,
Pragmatic signals [which are] expressions that signal the narrator’s awareness of an audience and the degree of his/her orientation towards it. Verbal storytelling, like speaking in general, takes place in a communicative setting comprising a speaker and an audience. (N1.4)
This becomes apparent when the narrator seems direct his discussion toward the female sex and explaining to his audience how writing works,
Dear Lady Readers: // Writing is the art of digression. Let us speak then of a smell of hashish and of curry, of a stumbling basic English and of a tingling trinket music. // Writing is the art of recreating reality. Let us respect it. // No. Writing is the art of restoring History. (Sarduy 5-7)
This quotation demonstrates pragmatic signals because the narrator dedicates one part of his discussion to a particular audience, his lady readers, and also uses the pronoun “us” quite a few times during his discourse. It also feel as if he is lecturing and in conflict with himself on how to write flawlessly.
According to Manfred Jahn,
[An] unreliable narrator [is] a narrator “whose rendering of the story and/or commentary on it the reader has reasons to suspect. […] The main sources of unreliability are the narrator’s limited knowledge, his personal involvement, and his problematic value-scheme.” (Jahn N7.6)
In Sesshu Fosters’ novel, Atomik Aztex, Zenzontli, the protagonist proves himself an unreliable narrator because in the text he, while speaking about his son, Zenzo explains, “He won’t say anything real to me these days, or when he does, half of whatever he says turns out isn’t true.” (Foster 9) It is correct to presume that Zenzo may only be taking about his son, but aren’t children an extension of their parents? Also, we, as readers, need to ask why Foster would put in a small fragment about Zenzo’s kids and I believe he does this so we can deduce that Zenzo, like his son, isn’t saying anything real and what he does say can’t be taken as facts.
In Sesshu Fosters’ novel, Atomik Aztex, we are so unexpectedly thrown into a rapid spiral of confusion and incredulity. First, because we are introduced to the narrator, Zenzontli, who from the beginning divulges that, “[…] I am getting fucked in the head and I think I like it. Okay sometimes I’m not sure. But my so-called visions are better than aspirin and cheaper.” (Foster 1) After reading this, we have to question ourselves on whether or not this narrator can ultimately be trusted and if the information he is giving is reliable.
Secondly, since we are given a reality by the narrator that is so different from any history book or lecture we, as a reader and knower of facts, have ever read or heard of, it becomes impossible to process what the narrator is portraying and because of his first piece of information the reader assumes he cannot be confided in since he must be under some type of influence. Lastly, we are introduced to narrator number two, who is also narrator number one, only that in this second reality we know the narrator as “Zenzo” for short, and this Zenzo works for a meatpacking plant and is not an “Aztex”.
According to Manfred Jahn, there are different forms in which a narrator can project his voice. One example of a projective narrative voice, which can be seen through what Jahn calls “voice markers,” is content matter. Jahn states, “Content matter[:] — obviously, there are naturally and culturally appropriate voices for sad and happy, comic and tragic subjects (though precise type of intonation never follows automatically).(Jahn N1.4)
This happens throughout all narratives, like in Salvador Plascencia’s novel, People of Paper. For example, when minor character, Smiley states,
My job has always been accounting. I’m a descendant of the Pengula tribe, which invented not only the tally marks but also the marks for nothingness and everythingness. My job was to keep the books for EMF, but when Federico de la Fe came I surrendered the job to Sandra so that I might count things that are unseen. (Plascencia, 87)
In this voice marker, we find out that Smiley is from a rather intelligent tribe, is a smart male and is also submissive because he lets Federico de la Fe, a man who is not a leader or commander in the EMF gang, order him around and make him give up his position as bookkeeper. We also get the feeling that Smiley is a young and respectful man because he listens to de la Fe and gives up his job title to a woman.
Gabriel García Márquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” can be classified as a,
Fictional narrative [which] presents an imaginary narrator’s account of a story that happened in an imaginary world. A fictional narrative is appreciated for its entertainment and educational value, possibly also for providing a vision of characters who might exist or might have existed, and a vision of things that might happen or could have happened. Although a fictional narrative may freely refer to actual people, places and events, it cannot be used as evidence of what happened in the real world. (Jahn N2.2.2)
For example, the nameless narrator in this story regales the reader of a time when “an angel” fell into Pelayo and Elisenda’s yard,
He [Pelayo] had to go very close to see that it was an old man, a very old man, lying face down in the mud, who, in spite of his tremendous efforts, couldn’t get up, impeded by his enormous wings […] They [Pelayo and Elisenda] both looked at the fallen body with mute stupor. He was dressed like a ragpicker. There were only a few faded hairs left on his bald skull and very few teeth in his mouth, and his pitiful condition of a drenched grand-father had taken away any sense of grandeur he might have had. His huge buzzard wings, dirty and half-plucked were forever entangled in the mud.” (García Márquez 217-18)
This quote is the basis of what a fictional narrative would be like because as Jahn states, it is impossible for one to take this story into account and present it as truth or evidence of what can happen in real life. This also lampoons the whole religious notions of angles which are depicted with magnificence and splendor in all sacred sections of real life. This is not the only occasion of fictional narrative in this short story which also depicts the time when Pelayo had to throw a huge amount of crabs back into the sea because they had flooded his house. (García Márquez 217)
In Salvador Plascencia’s novel, The People of Paper, Froggy’s character can be seen as what Manfred Jahn calls a “confidant [:] Somebody the protagonist can speak to, exchange views with, confide in — usually a close friend” (Jahn N7.8) Now, Federico De la Fe, Little Merced’s father is not given literary power in the novel, but the novel distinctively revolves around this character and Little Merced describes the friend relationship between Froggy and Federico De la Fe,
That night when Froggy knocked on our door, he brought the set of ivory dominoes and three older EMF cholos with him. My father, Froggy, and the three other men sat around the dominoes table chewing rose petals and drinking mescal.” (Plascencia 53)
All throughout the story Federico De La Fe and Froggy build a friendship and De La Fe develops enough trust in Froggy to tell him about how his wife just left him and about his war with Saturn; which, undoubtedly, Froggy aids De La Fe in this battle.
The descriptions of characters are always important in order for the reader to visualize and at times also feel a connection towards the character. Block characterization, a term used by Manfred Jahn, which means “the introductory description of a character, by the narrator, usually on the character’s first appearance in the text; a special type of explicit characterization” (Jahn N7.4) is seen in Salvador Plascencia’s novel The People of Paper when Little Merced describes the appearance of Merced De Papel and Baby Nostradamus,
I could hear a woman talking in a baby voice. I looked over the seat and saw a woman wearing a wool Indian poncho with twigs tangled into the thread. On her lap was a slobbering baby who moved only his lower lip. (Plascencia 23)
This is the first time we are introduced to Merced De Papel and her baby and the reader views the baby as unsightly because he is depicted as slobbering and just moving his lower lip with spit on it.