By Lewis Manalo
NEW YORK: I take the author Rodrigo Fresan to Café Reggio, telling him that the wood-paneled café is the first place in New York City to serve cappuccinos. He’s come to New York City for the PEN World Voices Festival, and in about an hour he will participate in a reading at Deutsches Haus on Washington Mews. After looking through the menu, he orders a banana-pineapple milkshake.
Dressed in black, Rodrigo Fresan is casual and easygoing. His English, tinged with an Argentine accent, is good and he speaks with his hands, whether discussing the song “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles or the films of Stanley Kubrick.
Though born in Argentina, Fresan has spent the last ten years in Barcelona where he used to pal around with another Latin American expatriate, Chile’s Roberto Bolano. In addition to Bolano, counts a number of other Latin American and Spanish writers as his friends; in New York, he counts Natasha Wimmer and Jonathan Lethem as friends, among others he knows.
Fresan says that he thinks most of the people who like his books could be his friends…
With a noteworthy literary career spanning over a decade, just one of his novels, Kensington Gardens, has been released in English. Translated by Wimmer and published by FSG in 2006, the kinetic novel mashes together the life of J.M. Barrie with the mad rant of a children’s author who grew up in a rock star household in the psychedelic Sixties.
“It’s a book you love or hate,” Fresan says, bending down to sip his milkshake through the straw. “Which are the kind of books I really liked.”
His latest novel, El fondo del cielo, came out last year. The notes in the book deny that it’s a science fiction novel, and instead describe it as a “novel with science fiction.”
“It’s a love story, really,” he says. “But, you know, have you read Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut? Well, there’s a part where he describes Tralfamadorian books as stories that happen all at the same time, in the same plane of consciousness, with no beginning no end and no middle. And when I finished I found out I wrote a Tralfamadorian book. So maybe I’m from Tralfamadore.”
Rodrigo Fresan also has a habit of rewriting his novels. This past fall also saw the re-release of his first novel, Historia Argentina, a collection of connected short stories, now with a new story.
“I finish a book because I have to finish, I have to deliver a manuscript, but I never completely–maybe with the last one, with El fondo del cielo, the sky one — that just came out,” he says, leaning back.
“This book I’m much more convinced that it’s going to be completed. Now it’s coming out in France and the difference from the Spanish edition is just six very short paragraphs…That is all. But in fact, [having so many versions of my work] also has to do with CD culture with the bonus tracks and director’s cut, and I really hate and enjoy when they do that to me. “I really hate and enjoy when they do that to me. For example, I bought Forever Changes by Love, you know that? Ten times already.”
Though I’m sure he’d understand, I can’t bring myself to tell him that I really don’t like that band….
After his milkshake is reduced to yellow bubbles in the bottom of his glass, and I finish my coffee, we walk around the corner to Bleecker Bob’s. He’s still got a few minutes before his reading. Flipping through the vinyl albums wrapped in translucent plastic, Fresan is on a quest for an impossible –to-find LP for a friend back in Spain. He’s looking anyway, which is the kind of thing you’d hope a friend would do for you.