A beguiling novel with a high threshold for self-indulgence and self-immolation, The People Of Paper twitters in and out of meaning too fitfully to be called conclusive or even coherent. That's not always a bad thing, but it's not always good either. After a prologue introducing a race of people birthed from the fancies of a butcher who doubled as an "origami surgeon," the story starts in Mexico, where a husband mourns the loss of a wife who left him for wetting his bed. Doubled over by sadness, the husband raises his ire to the skies, swearing revenge against a governing force on or around Saturn. He makes his personal obsession communal when he moves to Los Angeles and enlists an army of flower-pickers in a war against his nemesis, a war waged by hiding beneath the lead casings of mechanical turtles and learning how to make thoughts "impenetrable" to the all-seeing foe.
"Impenetrable" is a good way to describe the inner workings of The People Of Paper, which slams magic-realist fantasy against metafictional conceits without making too much of the wreckage. Author Salvador Plascencia excels in describing sun-baked Mexico and sun-drunk California in the age of mask-wielding wrestlers and Rita Hayworth. The book holds so many descriptions of tangy limes and salted foods that it practically salivates, but the same digestive juices it summons turn to drool as the language shifts to exhausting lists of characters and locales stomped into the ground by repetition. Part of that is owing to formal decree: Much of The People Of Paper is laid out in independent columns so that characters literally exist side-by-side, to alternately clever and cloying ends. But another part owes to an obfuscating approach that Plascencia seems to own up to as the "novel" begins to suggest his motivations and designs.
There's a certain thrill in watching a novel weather a crisis of conscience and actually start over after what seems like a nervous breakdown, but the countless scrims keep readers at a distance. Plascencia is an intriguing author who might be worth following down the road, but The People Of Paper leaves questions about his serviceability as a guide.