This elegant little novella devotes itself obsessively to one topic: the sensuous pleasures of reading. For a good book is a world of sensation, and furthermore the record of life within a book–for Domínguez’s characters, at least–invests the corporeal being of that book, the cover, the pages, the typeface, with sensuous life. The physical experience of reading the book commingles with the sensations depicted within. One of Domínguez’s characters for this reason prefers to read nineteenth-century novels by candlelight and pairs his reading with particular pieces of music as a sommelier pairs wine with food. (I read most of this book underground, jammed ribcage to ribcage inside various cars of the Lexington Avenue number 4 and 5 trains as they lurched and halted, lurched and halted, with an ambience of other people’s body smells and loud, annoying iPods. While this didn’t prevent me from enjoying the book, it didn’t much enhance the experience either.) The narratives within books acquire some timbre from the minutes of real life in which they are read, and from the larger moment in a life in which they are read. A vivid book can become irrevocably associated with a certain trip, a certain relationship, a certain phase of development. Life phases influence the reading experience and a book in turn imbues a phase of life with its particular character.
A copy of Joseph Conrad’s novel The Shadow Line, covered in lime and crumbled cement, plays a central role in the story here, but its physical being is far more important than its narrative for Domínguez’s purposes. That said, he does quote this fascinating passage from Conrad’s author note to The Shadow Line: “The world of the living contains enough marvels and mysteries as it is–marvels and mysteries acting upon our emotions and intelligence in ways so inexplicable that it would almost justify the conception of life as an enchanted state.” This was Conrad’s way of disavowing any interest in the “supernatural” in his work. One senses that for Domínguez, literary art at once honors and embodies those marvels and mysteries of the natural world. A book, a real book, not a spell book in a fairy tale, is a magical thing.