I'm here to tell you that the reason why it's hard to encapsulate The Incompletes by Sergio Chejfec, translated by Heather Cleary, is because it has no plot ... I'll clarify that stuff happens in this book. But there's still not much of a plot. Instead, we get a web of ruminations on everything from the construction of a city to the writing of novels ... There are essentially only three characters ... Hardly a line of dialogue is spoken. These characters barely every cross paths. And yet, even though we might say there is no plot, something obviously happens on the page. A sort of dream-like state is woven ... I wouldn't say The Incompletes is Weird fiction, but I would say it shares that sense that what we are experiencing is akin to a dream. And aren't dreams sometimes illogical and silly? Haven't you ever woken up and wondered why you just spend the night dreaming about buying 25 cans of soup at the supermarket? That is the kind of feeling you get with The Incompletes... Just like you must accept dream logic when you're sleeping, you must accept The Incompletes for what it is, to allow the endless descriptions of rooms, city streets, broken televisions, the cold, peeling walls and dirty window panes, to take hold of you. In the end you'll stumble out of the book, a bit dazed, wondering what the hell you just read, but it's an enjoyable trek if you like beautiful sentences...
The most literary of [Chejfec's] novels ... Chejfec seems to be feeling his way, as intrigued by where these characters are going as his readers ... It is the enigmatic narrator, not without his charms, who ultimately connects the disparate elements and holds together the neural pathways of this cerebral novel ... Heather Cleary negotiates these switch-backs deftly, her familiarity with the author a real asset. Chejfec has professed a desire to write in 'simple language,' but in practice he is a stylist who loves a labyrinthine sentence. Cleary helps readers to navigate the maze. When he makes his appearances, we immediately understand that the narrator is no longer transmitting the thought patterns of Felix or Masha, but his own. And this is as much a book about being the person who stayed behind on the docks as it is about the one who left.
... ably translated into English by Heather Cleary, is both [Chejfec's] strangest and most directly political novel to make it into English so far ... there are shifty meditations on time, memory, space, writing: it is a Borgesian catalog...This goes on for a while, perhaps too long, before the story takes a turn ... Few readers are likely to 'relate' to the extreme form of loneliness that Felix is suffering. Yet it is also true that the ascendance of this thing we call 'globalized corporate capitalism,' bitterly traced via Felix’s wanderings through the decaying corpse of the Soviet experiment, has severely damaged our capacity for shared experience. Bringing these manifestly different stories together is then a kind of shock therapy ... Granted, this is a heavy concept. Not all will find it compelling. For this reason, The Incompletes is probably not the place to begin with Chejfec. Yet the book is another reminder of how deeply Chejfec is thinking about the form of the novel, pushing its boundaries to let modern varieties of social malaise leak in, and thereby renewing the novel’s ability to reflect—and affect—our lives.
... ably translated into English by Heather Cleary, is both [Chejfec's] strangest and most directly political novel to make it into English so far ... Not all will find it compelling. For this reason, The Incompletes is probably not the place to begin with Chejfec. Yet the book is another reminder of how deeply Chejfec is thinking about the form of the novel, pushing its boundaries to let modern varieties of social malaise leak in, and thereby renewing the novel’s ability to reflect—and affect—our lives.
... the novel elects to digress, and then to digress from each digression, which wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t also come up short on the two elements besides plot that could have prevented it from reading like a continuous (the novel has no chapters or demarcations beyond the paragraph and almost no dialogue) self-indulgent exercise in hearing oneself talk: character development and skilled and rhythmic prose. Instead, this last one is, here, overwritten past beauty to disengaging effect ... you get the feeling even the narrator doesn’t know Felix very well, and so we, the readers, never really get to know him, either ... may have 99 problems, but we should only be so lucky to have its lack of a well-constructed plot be the worst of them.
Just as the missives described by the narrator from his friend Felix grow from postcards to full-blown letters, so too do the accumulated moments grow larger and more significant as the novel moves from Buenos Aires to Barcelona to Moscow ... readers are uneasily reminded of the fact that, in the end, neither Felix nor Masha is telling the story at all. They barely say a word—it is the narrator adorning simple correspondence from a friend with drama and stemwinding diction. The effect it conjures gets at the heart of narration in general: What is the responsibility of the storyteller to adhere to the facts as told? Is it possible to ever completely know what happened? If the story is vivid and engaging—as this book is—does it matter? In this innovative novel, Chejfec is gesturing toward the grand European traditions on his own terms.
On the latest of his discursive novels to be translated, Chejfec...composes an intensely ruminative travelogue about a mysterious man ...This is a dense, knotty read that provides glimpses of murky identities behind half-open doors.