Floored Genius

From high-minded to hype-crazed, book fairs have a rich tradition of coaxing out reclusive authors. New Times was fortunate to get a rare audience with the person redefining writing, M.M. Pascal-Paul.

Hundreds of writers, book editors, and other denizens of the publishing industry are descending upon Miami and environs this week for the Miami Book Fair International. The list of renowned authors is pretty impressive: Michael Cunningham, Joan Didion, Robert Antoni, Margaret Atwood, Terry McMillan, Jonathan Kozol, Dava Sobel, Amy Tan, and more. The roster also contains a few debut novelists whom we might not have read — or read about — but who already stand at the threshold of the pantheon of contemporary literary gods, or are at least ploughing their prose-field a safe distance from the bottomless pit of self-publishing.

To do justice to all the marvelous writers sharing the limelight in this year's book fair would be an impossible dream, to be sure. Instead we focus our little lens on M.M. Pascal-Paul, a rising star in the night that enshrouds the world of every unknown author. We selected her, in part, because she hails from a land she herself calls "a black hole," a place whose writers are conspicuously absent from this year's book fair. Yes, we're speaking of that fabled island only 120 miles to the south — Cuba. But Pascal-Paul is also interesting because she is an anomaly in contemporary letters. She is neither suspense writer, magical realist, diarist, nor historian. Indeed, her work defies categorization and challenges our most basic assumptions of what literature actually is.

But beware. Pascal-Paul is not for the feeble-minded. She is Candace Bushnell sans the sap but with tout le miel. She has all the gravitas of a young Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the fiery poetess of seventeenth-century Mexico. Were Pascal-Paul in the wings, a Camille Paglia lecture would come off like The Jerry Springer Show. So complex is Pascal-Paul's cultural background that one journalist described her as "a veritable cornucopia of ethnicities and national origins."

Those of you who are semiliterate or clinically illiterate might best skip over these pages and continue glancing at the photos, ads, and listings. Because you might not be able to take what's coming.


NT: I suppose we should begin with the sex stuff, to get everyone's attention.

MM: I think we should talk about that further along in the interview. Make them wait for it.

Okay, we can do that. But let's just give them a taste. You're about to publish something about the sexual precociousness of young people in Miami.

Okay, it's a little treatise entitled Miami Ménage à Trois: Theory and Practice.

And there's something specifically Miamiesque about the ménage à troises here? Okay, okay. I can wait. So, what else is on your mind?

Well, I just had lunch at Sir Bread.

Sir Bread?

Yeah, you know, Don Pan.

And?

I mean what hope is there really for a civilization in which the $4.99 Don Pan French combo — that's a turkey and cheese croissant, Pepsi, and a cortadito — is a viable proposition? Come on, a Pepsi and a cortadito? Isn't that just like a recipe for protracted mass suicide? That's what you call cross-cultural coronary convergence. There's really nothing French about it of course. I would just expect Europeans to set the bar a little higher.

The Don Pan people are Europeans? I thought they were Venezuelans.

The owners are Spaniards who grew up in Venezuela. They started the business in Caracas, then moved to Miami in the mid-Nineties, if I'm not mistaken.

And your point about the French combo?

I mean, this is the fundamental issue of our time, isn't it? The blurring of reality and fiction, actually, the elimination of fact. I mean, human beings have always struggled with truth and lies, clarity and confusion. But we — our civilization has taken it to a higher level. I mean, we invented disinformation, for God's sake.

Examples?

There are so many. Where to begin? Take the fashion industry. Those models are shockingly beautiful in the photographs. I mean, some look damn amazing at their worst, too, but the point is there is this disconnect between image and reality. But people think the image is reality. Look at television soap operas. You wonder why there's so much drama in the real world? Look no further than your TV set, cariño. But this is nothing new. It's just like what Plato said about the people in the cave watching the shadows dancing on the wall and thinking they're real, when in fact the real dancers are shakin' it over by the fire. This is all to state the obvious, but in this day and age there is so much obfuscation taking place that you have to state the obvious repeatedly, or reality will disappear altogether. Facts will disappear. In our civilization you have to be on television to be real.

Speaking of obfuscation, M.M., what do your initials stand for anyway?

Well, the first M stands for Marjorie. I mean, Marjorie is okay. But Martí? Supposedly we're related to José Martí, through my mom, and my mom was hell-bent that I would be a poet and a statesman. Stateswoman, I guess I should say. My dad pushed for Marjorie because he was really into River of Grass, the famous book about the Everglades, which was big when they moved to Miami in the late Sixties.

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