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Susan Daitch. Paper Conspiracies.

Susan Daitch. Paper Conspiracies. City Lights Books, 2011. 264 pp. Paper: $16.95.

Frances Baum, one of the protagonists of Susan Daitch's latest novel Paper Conspiracies, is an unlikely detective in an even more unlikely thriller. Tasked with preserving a cache of films by Georges Melies, Frances finds herself embroiled in a real-life mystery surrounding The Dreyfus Affair, Melies's reconstruction of the infamous 1894 scandal in which Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French military, was falsely accused of spying for Germany. Mysterious phone calls haunt Frances as she proceeds with the restoration; Julius Shute, her boss at Alphabet Films, also seems strangely invested in the project the closer that Alphabet gets to insolvency. Daitch's narrative can certainly be enjoyed as cerebral noir; the cryptic calls and notes delivered to Frances are reminiscent of Paul Auster. But while potentially packaged as genre, Daitch has lost none of the bristling intelligence that makes her work so uniquely literary. Set during the first Gulf War--the sad resonance will not escape contemporary readers--Paper Conspiracies is a historical narrative distilled from the personal stories of those who lived (and died) to tell it. Central to Daitch's elegant modulation between the national and individual, the past and the present, is the texture of her prose, which transcends verisimilitude in pursuit of revelation: "How is an office building like a human body? Banks of elevators function like arteries, the furnace is a giant sweat gland, air-conditioning ducts are drawn-out branches of lung." Those who take this journey across time and space will doubtless echo Frances's early musings on her growing obsession: "Melies was taunting me, saying look at me, choose me, you'll be seduced, entertained as you never have been before, and you won't regret it either, not for a minute."
COPYRIGHT 2012 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Author:Ponce, Pedro
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2012
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