Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The central theme of the work, clearly a Bildungsroman in nature, is the act of writing, of telling one’s story and a succession of stories. The novel’s epigraph, from Salvador Elizondo’s El grafógrafo (1972), is a perfect introduction to the work and a classical statement of the metaphysical and epistemological state of contemporary literature in which writers write about writing about writing and invite readers to imagine them imagining themselves writing about writing. Surely an invitation to formalist and deconstructive critical interpretation, the epigraph reinforces the perfect Viconian circularity of the novel, in which Mario the narrator is a character of Mario the novelist and in which both are writing about being writers and about one notorious writer, the tireless but insane scriptwriter, whose creations are also those of Mario the novelist.

All other elements of the novel—the themes of romance, uproariously amusing misadventures, accidental meetings, amorous assignations, love unrequited and gloriously requited, ambition and entertainment—are subservient to the overmastering passions of Mario, Pedro, and the novelist to memorialize experience, fictionalize life, and artfully reinvent identity. The final chapter is, again, supremely important in setting several records as straight as they can be in Mario’s narrative, in the supposed events and motives of Pedro Camacho’s life and works, and in the ultimately enigmatic life and adventures of the ineluctable Aunt Julia.