Fracture by Andrés Neuman – A Review

Andrés Neuman
Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia, trans
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020

Andrés Neuman is many writers; novelist, poet, short story author, and through the range of his diverse works he has shown immense talent and versatility. I first came to his works via the short story, and it is in the short form I know his work best. In short works he’s more experimental, and yet also personal, finding in the brief images of a story, the memories, the personalities, of those around us. The same sense of the personal also show up in his short novel, Talking to Ourselves. Although not as experimental in form, the narration showed an inventiveness in the perspective shifts, refining the story in fragments of lives that seemed lived by real people. But Neuman is also a different kind of writer, one attuned the historical and political. From his blog posts to his untranslated work Barbarismos, a dictionary of  dark, alternate definitions, he is well attuned to the way language and politics intertwine.

To date he has written two novels that, if not fall into these broad categories, at least lean heavily in that direction: Traveler of the Century, and the latest, Fracture. Fracture is takes place over the last 75 years, starting with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and ending with the nuclear disaster at Fukushima. Told around the story of Yoshie Wantanabe, Neuman constructs a story that which examines the major historical events in Japan, Western Europe, and particularly the United States. Alternating between a third person account of  Wantanabe’s experience at Hiroshima and his later Journey to Fukushima, and the reminiscences of three ex-girlfriends, there are detailed descriptions of the anti-nuclear movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement, the Argentine financial collapse, Chernobyl, and too many others to describe. Suffice it to say, if one of the narrators wasn’t there, they had an opinion. Where Traveler of the Century wanted to dig into the liberal tradition in Europe, Fracture is interested in the atomic age as both a metaphor and a problem that is still with us, not something consigned to the past. Given the real dangers of nuclear war, waste, and accidents, it is a laudable goal. And much like I thought when reading Traveler, if one does not continually return to these issue, they are forgotten, or overwhelmed by the expediency of the now.

As a narative, though, there was something missing. Both Traveler and Talking to Ourselves had a narrative that had its own logic, its own animating characters. Here, the characters don’t breathe, so much as explain history, explain political moments. Have no doubt, its well done, with a depth of knowledge that shows Neuman’s skill as a writer. And there are some brilliant passages and lines that make the novel enjoyable reading at times. But I couldn’t help but think the narrators, the ex-girlfriends were just historians, and not particularly good at it. Moreover, I didn’t really get a sense of the characters as living beings. Perhaps it was because all the narrators are looking back, all of their history is linear, well thought out, as if they had rehearsed it at length. Thee was no suspense and despite some good writing in places, many of the memories felt flat.

The story of Mr. Wantanabe is more interesting and there is a sense of his detachment from the world that comes through. His journey to the center of the disaster is a quixotic attempt to return to what he had lost years before. It also underscores the point that first he was a victim, and now he is one of the perpetrators. Nevertheless, he is a mysterious figure, because he never really speaks for himself, his exes do. It’s an interesting approach, and shifts the power dynamic, especially with a man who is always moving, never able settle in one place too long. And that’s where my initial irritation comes back, all I really have are the bullet points of his life against the backdrop of the 20th century.

Ultimately, Fracture is an ambitious novel, one that continues to show Neuman’s great talent as a writer. Compared to his other works, though, it is not quite as magical, and left me wondering what could’ve been. However, having read some of his 2019 book of experimental short works. Anatomía sensible, I know the future is bright.

I want to thanks the publisher for providing my review copy.