Empty Set, by Verónica Gerber Bicecci

For a few months last year, I was a Rumpus Monthly subscriber—I got a Double Box the first week of every month. One brand new piece of fiction, and one new collection of poetry. I loved it. (Still love it, but it’s too pricey for me right now.) Empty Set, by Verónica Gerber Bicecci (trans. Christina MacSweeney), was in my last box, and as TBR shelves work, I just never got beyond admiring the cover. Woe is me—it’s so much more beautiful and exciting on the inside.

In an inner dialogue all the words return like boomerangs.

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Look at this astonishing little book. It does exactly my favourite thing that fiction can do—break the prose rules and prose expectations. Empty Set is full of snaps of familial and human math as the narrator struggles to come to grips with the mother’s vanishing. I’m unsure if it’s grief or madness or both, and I’m unsure if it’s the daughter or the mother who is worse stricken (I’m only fifty pages in).

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The prose is spare because the story is huge and full of holes. All the characters are looking for things they can’t see and patching their leaky spots just to hang on a little bit longer. The translation is seamless—I am always especially impressed by works in translation because of my own polyglot nature. It is very hard to say the same thing the same way in someone else’s mouth. I’ll give this one a rating when I’m finished with it, but I am so so glad I’ve finally picked it up.

P135: Love confirms the circularity of the universe.

It’s been a fact of my life that reading, more often than not, makes me cry. Empty Set‘s vanishing mother and unstable narrator had me on rocky ground from the get-go, but (I)/Verónica details the end of an intense and strange romantic relationship—there is (T), the primary lover, and also a series of one-night stands with a tall unnamed German boy who speaks no Spanish and who Verónica doesn’t waste her English on (what the reader is led to assume is their shared language).

This damned (T) has my brain running in circles about F, my F.

“Why don’t you come with me?”

My body started trembling inside. We went up the stairs…

and what follows is a hot and urgent sexual encounter—their first. Some excerpts that have me raw-skinned:

P67: I was madly in love after one kiss, that seems a sufficient explanation.

Verónica spends a portion of the book hired to go through the physical documents after a matriarch’s death, her son being too distraught or disinterested to perform the task himself. Veronica finds in the bottom of a chest the chopped remains of love letters from during this woman’s courtship with her would-be husband, and she sets about reconstructing the letters. Of the task, she says:

And as the letters were gradually reassembled, my conscious became increasingly uneasy. The moment no longer existed.

I won’t detail my F because this is not that kind of blog; besides, I have written enough about him in poems and some of those poems are published. Others will undoubtedly go to workshop. I have been muttering in my heart about how to bring him back into my life, now post penny and scroll. I’ve written a letter into a paper airplane but I’ve yet to leave it in his mailbox. In Empty Set, (T) has a (H). My F had a (H) in the middle of our wreck when things were actually the most clear—but that did not stop it from its wrecking. I still wonder what it’s like to be unfailingly loved.

Maybe (I) will find out.

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