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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Story of My Teeth

Valeria Luiselli

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To purchase The Story of My Teeth

Title: The Story of My Teeth
Author: Valeria Luiselli
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 195 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Story of My Teeth - US
La historia de mis dientes - US
The Story of My Teeth - UK
The Story of My Teeth - Canada
The Story of My Teeth - India
Die Geschichte meiner Zähne - Deutschland
La historia de mis dientes - España
  • Spanish title: La historia de mis dientes
  • Translated and with a Chronologic by Christina MacSweeney

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good, provocative literary fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 24/4/2015 Paul Gould
The LA Times . 17/9/2015 Carolyn Kellogg
The NY Times Book Rev. . 13/9/2015 Jim Krusoe
San Francisco Chronicle . 12/11/2015 Polly Rosenwaike
TLS . 13/5/2015 Claire Lowdon
World Lit. Today . 1-2/2016 Ágnes Orzóy

  From the Reviews:
  • "Although Sánchez’s voice is an engaging one, his detours into philosophy feel like whimsy for its own sake. And despite Luiselli’s wit and her smart pay-off, some readers will be left with the sense of ploughing through some extended in-joke." - Paul Gould, Financial Times

  • "(A) destabilizing read, a puzzle of a novel that at first seems explicable enough. Each successive chapter reveals new aspects and dimensions to the tale, giving the story new shapes and forms. When the book closes with a description that seems to fit all the parts in place, it's satisfying yet appropriately mutable for a work that's spent so much time playing with truth and fiction. (...) At every turn, the book has this careful architecture, even if it feels like a strange, blind alley. Luiselli writes with a confidence that demonstrates she's going somewhere." - Carolyn Kellogg, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The story part of The Story of My Teeth is told with considerable charm, and the name-dropping is just enough to signal that there’s more afoot here than merely an old-fashioned good time. There are other whiffs of philosophy, philology and excursions into other short tales as well. Then, just about the time a reader may ask where all of this is heading, the narrative stops cold and the book gets really interesting. (...) The Story of My Teeth is playful, attentive and very smart without being for a minute pretentious." - Jim Krusoe, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The novel swirls with questions about the nature of storytelling and commerce, high and low art, the real and the imaginary. Irony aplenty is aimed at a postmodern society awash in simulacra" - Polly Rosenwaike, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The Story of My Teeth often feels familiar -- appropriately, perhaps, for a book that is all about perception and the second-hand. Yet Luiselli brings her own post-millennial chic to what is essentially vintage wear, customizing the old look with drolly eclectic details. (...) The prose is confident, playful, learned; and it is translated into utterly convincing English via Luiselli’s collaboration with Christina MacSweeney." - Claire Lowdon, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Luiselli’s novel is not only for those initiated into postmodern theory. It is the result of meaningful engagement not only with literary giants but with the real world as well, an engagement that connects this otherwise lighthearted and elusive little book to the ground, injecting fresh blood into postmodern techniques. (...) A fundamental openness and curiosity make Luiselli’s work fresh and exciting. She is serious in her engagement with art, literature, and society without being arrogant or sententious" - Ágnes Orzóy, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Story of My Teeth begins with Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez -- called 'Highway' -- introducing himself, beginning with the claim that:

     I'm the best auctioneer in the world, but no one knows it because I'm a discreet sort of man
       Much later in the book a second narrator is introduced, amanuensis Jacobo de Voragine who also describes Highway's last years and performances, and brings the swirling story full circle, noting that Highway often told his story, beginning more or less as the account also does in the book. Highway's story is also his spiel, all part of an act that is also his essence.
       Highway's life is long largely unremarkable. Yes, he was born with four teeth -- an unusual but not unknown condition -- but that's about it. He started working young, and for neatly two decades worked as a security guard in a factory -- a factory with an art gallery, making him: "a gatekeeper of a collection of objects of real beauty", even if he never gets to see them. Then something happens that leads to him getting a promotion -- to Personnel Crisis Supervisor, a cushy job, since it turns out there are few crises among the personnel. He marries, and has a son, Siddhartha. And then he starts studying to become an auctioneer -- and, inspired by reading about an author who wrote a book and used the proceeds to get his teeth replaced (think Martin Amis), his grand ambition becomes to be able to do the same.
       Highway embarks on his auctioneering career, developing his own category to supplement the four techniques he had been taught (circular, elliptical, parabolic, and hyperbolic) -- the allegoric method. And the payoff comes when he buys Marilyn Monroe's teeth and has them implanted to replace his crooked set of chompers; after that: "For months after the operation, I couldn't get the grin off my face".
       Highway winds up losing his precious Monroe-teeth -- to his son, no less -- as the book moves on in parts titled after the different auctioneering techniques, beginning with 'The Hyperbolics'. Here there's a demonstration of Highway's skills and stories, as he auctions off ... teeth (it's for a good cause), ascribing famous origins to them (from Petrarch to Virginia Woolf to Enrique Vila-Matas). (For all his supposed skill, it's hard to overlook that the lots don't bring in much cash.)
       Highway is left toothless, but the book still has some bite in spinning his tale on -- including amusingly continuing to mix in references to literati, presented as relatives and acquaintances in slightly altered nominal guises ('Juan Pablo Sánchez Sartre', 'Roberto Sánchez Walser', etc.). By the time we get to the allegoric lots we find even a: "Valeria Luiselli, a mediocre high school student" (and the daughter of a "Mrs. Weiss and Mr Fischli" (as (if not quite) in the artistic duo)). The final book of the narrative-proper is then recounted by Voragine (his name also that of a well-known real life figure, and a lives-of-the-saints author) -- and includes photographic documentation.
       The final part of the book is a helpful 'Chronologic', the work of translator Christina MacSweeney -- "a map, an index, and a glossary for the book", Luiselli suggests
       An Afterword by Luiselli explains the origins of this work, and its real-life connections -- beginning with a factory with an art gallery resembling Highway's longtime workplace (and the ones to originally commission a piece from Luiselli, out of which this book eventually emerged). She sums up the resulting work as a: "collective "novel-essay" about the production of value and meaning in contemporary art and literature".
       This is an unusual work of fiction, and not just because of Luiselli's creative stylistic approaches.
       Voragine notes:
     When Highway first began to recount his stories to me, I thought he was a compulsive liar. But then, living with him, I realized that it had less to do with lying than surpassing the truth.
       Anchoring the story (and teeth) in so many real-life identities, The Story of My Teeth also constantly reminds readers of the warping and transformation of reality in (and into) art -- beginning with the playfully changed names.
       Highway tries to explain:
What auctioneers auction, in the end, are just the names of people, and maybe words. All I do is give them new content.
       The Story of My Teeth is an exercise in variations on that theme. It's cleverly and quite amusingly done, even as perhaps the theoretical shows through too clearly -- Luiselli isn't wrong to call it a: "novel-essay" -- and an enjoyable (and nicely surprising, in parts) read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 December 2015

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The Story of My Teeth: Reviews: Other books by Valeria Luiselli under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican author Valeria Luiselli was born in 1983.

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© 2015 the complete review

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