The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri: A Novel by David Bajo | Paperback | Barnes & Noble
The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri: A Novel

The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri: A Novel

4.5 2
by David Bajo
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

Throughout mathematician Philip Masyrk's peripatetic life, there has been only one constant: Irma Arcuri. Their ongoing love affair has endured his two marriages and her countless travels. But now Irma has vanished, leaving Philip her library of 351 books, including five written by Irma herself. Buried somewhere within her luxuriously rebound volumes of

Overview

Throughout mathematician Philip Masyrk's peripatetic life, there has been only one constant: Irma Arcuri. Their ongoing love affair has endured his two marriages and her countless travels. But now Irma has vanished, leaving Philip her library of 351 books, including five written by Irma herself. Buried somewhere within her luxuriously rebound volumes of Cervantes and Turgenev, Borges and Fowles, lies the secret to her disappearance-and Philip soon realizes that he is trapped within their narratives as well. Who is Irma Arcuri? What is really hidden in the library? And most importantly, whose story is this? Unapologetically sexy and brazenly intellectual, The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri is the impressive debut of a daring new literary talent.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
" A sexy book that's about everything, yet above all about the act (Act? Art!) of reading itself."
-Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"An intellectual thriller for a literate audience."
-Los Angeles Times

" If you have ever opened a novel and found yourself 'inside' the story, you must read this book."
-Keith Donahue, author of The Stolen Child

George Singleton
It might be easier to explain what's lacking in David Bajo's mind-expanding novel The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri. This is an amazing, beautiful story of Philip Mazryk's quixotic search for the Siren of all Sirens. These characters live within a puzzle, that's inside a maze, that's inside a labyrinth all tied up in Mobius strips. It's as if Stranger than Fiction were co-directed by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Gottlob Frege. Smart, mystical, sexy, and lyrical: I'm convinced that The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri will not leave the reader, ever. (George Singleton, author of Novel and The Half-Mammals of Dixie)
Keith Donohue
The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri is a dazzling combination of love and sex and, yes, mathematics, and David Bajo uses mirrors to make his magic. If you have ever opened a novel and found yourself ‘inside' the story, you must read this book. (Keith Donohue, author of the bestselling The Stolen Child)
Karl Iagnemma
David Bajo's first novel is a provocative and elegant meditation on love, literature, and mathematics. (Karl Iagnemma, author of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction)
Publishers Weekly

Volumes by Borges, Cervantes, Sebald and others serve as clues and almost as characters in Bajo's intriguing debut, a love story wrapped in a bibliomaniacal whodunit with a hall-of-mirrors bow on top. The books belonged to Irma Arcuri, a bookbinder, writer and the lifelong object of preternatural math whiz Philip Masryk's desire. After Philip learns that Irma has supposedly killed herself and bequeathed her library to him, he quits his job to explore Irma's books and discover any messages that might be left in them for him. With the help of Lucia, a beautiful woman uncannily familiar to Philip, he discovers that Irma has not only rebound the books but also changed their texts; a new story is added to Borges's Ficciones and buried in Don Quixote are notes from Irma. As he follows Irma's long-cold trail from Philadelphia to Barcelona and Seville, Philip finds traces of Irma everywhere, but few clues that point to a resolution. Though Bajo's plotting can be elliptical and the denouement doesn't quite sing, the narrative's intelligence and passion transcend its metafictional ambiguities. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Bajo's debut is a complicated stew: a hyper-literary erotic suspense novel about a mathematician/sexual athlete/compulsive runner searching for his lover, who's left him to unravel the mystery of her disappearance using only the books she's bequeathed him. Philip Masryk, recently divorced for the second time and living alone in Philadelphia, is something of a savant, and he uses his semi-mystical (and entertaining) theories to decipher the messages encoded in Irma's library-351 volumes, ranging from a pulp western to Cervantes to Borges to Marguerite Duras, and including five (largely autobiographical) books by Irma herself. Throughout, Philip finds himself teased, winked at, manipulated-through Irma's own fiction, her interpolated notes in the texts of others, elaborately faked additions, numerological traps, and more. He gets entangled with a translator named Lucia, a doppelganger for Irma, who between bouts of spirited lovemaking spurs and cajoles him-and who seems, more and more, to be enmeshed in Irma's web herself. It turns out that omnisexual Irma has been conducting affairs with every principal in the book-not only Philip but both ex-wives, his stepdaughter and his stepson, who takes off for Spain to find her, with Philip close behind. It's an intriguing setup, and the book succeeds best while praising the pleasures of reading, in the way it captures the feeling one gets, in a good book, that wherever one looks there is some residue of amazing design. Wittily allusive, it offers offbeat readings of works like Don Quixote as well as disquisitions on everything from Spanish urban geography to bird's-nest soup to bookbinding to steeplechase. But despite flashes of promise, the bookdoesn't coalesce. The sex scenes are comically overlush and overearnest, and Irma remains a cipher, less a genuine mystery than the focus of strenuous mystification: "I think she is the most remarkable thing on this earth. She keeps herself free, Philip . . . She lives by what she learns and she learns by feeling."Ambitious and intelligent but overstuffed. Agent: Peter Steinberg/Regal Literary

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143115403
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/26/2009
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Irma Arcuri bequeathed her book collection, all 351 hardcovers, to Philip Masryk. Within the collection were the five novels she wrote and bound herself. Two were published and three were not, but he never cared which ones made it through that process. She always gave him copies she bound herself, versions that slid into his hands like cool pieces of marble, weighted and balanced. And she always hand-delivered them, no matter where she had to travel. Philip received notice of this final bequeathment in an email from her mother in Santa Barbara. He re-read the message as he rode the morning ferry from Philadelphia to Camden. The spring mist rising from the Delaware dampened the printout. He held the message with both hands so the early sun could shine through the paper. Other commuters along the rail held the opaque Inquirer to block the sunrise, mist and bowspray. It was cold.

He stopped driving the Franklin Bridge and started riding the ferry after his second ex-wife won both cars in their friendly settlement. Letting Beatrice have both cars was not as amicable as it may have seemed to her and her lawyer. In the 30 seconds it took her attorney to utter the request, Philip accurately calculated the economic and temporal impacts of parking two cars in downtown Philadelphia.

He accepted. He had a certain way of seeing things—a tilt—and so he trusted her and her anger toward him. She took ownership of their flat near Rittenhouse Square. She compensated him for this, but in terms of what the place was worth when they bought it together, not in the inflated terms it was worth now.

After the ferry took him to Camden, he went to work just long enough to resign and then walked along the riverfront to the aquarium. He spent the day there, learning that the glass separating him from the fish was 11 inches thick. He waited until 11 to call the Arcuris, so that it would not be too early an hour on the West Coast. He called them from the aquarium's promenade.

Mrs. Arcuri answered on the third ring. She answered 97% of the time, so Philip was expecting her voice. He asked her about the bequeathment and didn't that imply some kind of death or vanishing. He listened to Irma's mother for five minutes before his cell phone was cut off, the interruption informing him that the insurance company he quit earlier had removed him from their service. He understood their anger and was relieved by the abrupt ending it gave to his conversation with Mrs. Arcuri. She stopped liking him twenty years ago when she realized that he was not going to marry her daughter. She remained polite, treating him through the years as a sort of family member, one known as the man who would not marry our daughter. Whenever he had Thanksgiving with the Arcuris, he was seated next to whomever was Irma's current lover, like the next figure down on her mother's evolutionary scale of suitors.

Irma, he learned from Mrs. Arcuri's abbreviated chat, was only figuratively dead. If she had actually died, Mrs. Arcuri assured him, she would have called him in person. But he could tell by the erosion in her voice—her verb to total word ratio diminishing from sentence to sentence—that this figurative death was almost as distressing and final as a literal death. Irma was gone. Her figurative suicide note, left on a pillow in a pensión in Seville, mentioned a secular mission, the sacrifice of one's dreams. Most tragically, it declared an end to her writing. Mrs. Arcuri cried during this sentence. The cell phone cut-off occurred amid her tears.

Philip wandered back into the dark knot of the aquarium, to the jellyfish display, where he watched one small tank for a long time. The jellies were only a few centimeters long, but they were colorful and phosphorescent in their black water. They were from the deep sea trenches off The Philippines.

The jellyfish took turns undulating themselves upward, then parachuting softly through the dark water. This is how they gathered microscopic food, Philip read from the descriptive plaque. Some lit up like neon, others were hardly visible, membranes in ink. At the bottom of the plaque, Philip saw that his insurance firm—his now ex-insurance firm—sponsored the jellyfish. He briefly calculated the cost of this sponsorship: the ichthyologists, their collecting grants, the specialized boat and equipment, permission from The Philippines, tank maintenance. All for a few centimeters of sea-life, wisps of vellum that were barely even there. The plaque understated the firm's generosity.

His resignation had not been bold. The cell phone cut-off aside, he was reasonably certain they would take him back; his talent was rare enough. Depending on whose research you followed, there were approximately 10,000 to 25,000 like him in the world. Perhaps a thousand of those lived in America. Of those thousand, only a few hundred had their talent discovered because they were in ideal socioeconomic situations, fewer had taken the time and effort to cultivate it through higher education, and roughly a third of those were of working age. He knew numbers. Others called it calculation, but usually there was no calculation necessary, certainly not in the simple math of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, square roots, and exponents. If you gave him a set of numbers and told him what to do with them—add them, cube the result and then give the square root, for example—he could do it in his head in the time it took you to input.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
" A sexy book that's about everything, yet above all about the act (Act? Art!) of reading itself."
-Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"An intellectual thriller for a literate audience."
-Los Angeles Times

" If you have ever opened a novel and found yourself 'inside' the story, you must read this book."
-Keith Donahue, author of The Stolen Child

Meet the Author

David Bajo grew up the tenth of fifteen children on a California ranch overlooking the Pacific and the Tijuana bullring. He earned a master’s in English literature at the University of Michigan and received an MFA in fiction from UC-Irvine. He worked as a journalist in San Diego, covering border culture, Mexican wrestler movies, music, and drama. He also translated Spanish and Portuguese sociology, anthropology, and physics. David has taught writing at UC-Irvine and Boise State, and presently teaches at the University of South Carolina. He’s published stories in The Sun, Zyzzyva, and The Cimarron Review.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jjkpllk.mrfbhcxcggdgqngffcfchbk Bxzbcytykllchgggkhjghhhhjhvvb m..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written and erudite