Hardcover, 144 pages
Publisher: Granta (April 2015)
Selected by Tank
Valeria Luiselli is a New York-based Mexican writer who might be better described as a multidisciplinary artist. Aside from writing a book of essays and two novels (of which The Story of My Teeth is the latest), she has also collaborated on many other projects, including writing for art galleries and completing a libretto for the New York City Ballet. The Story of My Teeth defies easy categorisation. The story of “the world’s best auction caller”, Gustavo “Highway” Sanchez and his quest for a full mouth of pearly whites, it is also a fictionalised account of the lives of the great and the good (Marilyn Monroe and G. K. Chesterton being but two) and their teeth.
By the year 2011, Mexicans had lost their minds. Everybody was at war with everybody else, and there was a general climate of antagonism and bitterness – a sense of living on the verge of calamity. It had been some time since I’d been summoned to call an auction. I believe this was because Mexicans are also like crabs in a bucket, and this needs no further explanation. My skills languished, unused. I had also stopped travelling, principally because I’d realised that despite the Mexicans, who make every possible effort to ruin everything, Mexico is glorious. In my opinion, outside my native land, only Paris is worth a mention, but even so, we all know that the city of Campeche beats Paris hands down. End of comment.
Rather than frittering away my money on trips, I’d spent the subsequent years in my own neighbourhood, collecting the stories and objects that chance threw in my path or that I found in the local junkyard – a beautiful establishment whose owner, my friend Jorge Ibargüengoitia, gave me special access to for being a loyal client. Between what I’d acquired on my international travels and my new local collections, I had amassed an admirable estate. I knew that one day I’d hold a grand auction in my own house, in which I would offer my treasures to people worthy of the privilege; refined people, people of great breadth of vision. But all that was still in the future, and I am a patient man. The suspension bridge connecting the warehouse to the auction house still had to be finished, the land-use permit had to be obtained, comfortable chairs for the bidders bought, and, most importantly, I had to employ someone to put together my catalogue of collectibles.
For the lucky man, even the cock lays an egg, as Napoleón sings. One summer day, Father Luigi Amara, parish priest of Saint Apolonia’s, came to offer me his help. Or so I thought. He explained that his church had gone into economic recession as a collateral effect of the global crisis. He was in need of my services as an auctioneer and proposed a project that, he promised, would benefit me too – both in spiritual and material terms. And why lie? The economic crisis had affected me as well. I needed the money that Father Luigi assured me we would make if we joined forces in organising an auction of collectibles in his church.
Father Luigi’s plan was simple. Once a month, Saint Apolonia’s offered a service for residents of the neighbourhood care home for the elderly, called Serene Twilight, or maybe Sweet Twilight, or perhaps just Twilight – some name like that, as depressing as it was predictable. The monthly mass for these old people was to be held the following Sunday. The majority of them, according to Father Luigi, were from wealthy families. Advanced in years, but solvent, he said. We had to take maximum advantage of the venue and context of the mass to get some money out of them. We would sell that senile but well-heeled congregation a selection of my collectibles in order to raise funds for the parish: 30 per cent for me; 70 per cent for the church.
At first I thought the balance was unfair, considering that Father Luigi’s contribution was restricted to the use of his church and – at only the most distant remove – the bidders, who, numerous though they might be, were still just sickly old dodderers.