When I first began reading The People of Paper, I had no idea what the book would turn out to be about. While I was reading the prologue, I was envisioning a trailer of a quirky computer-animated film based on this book. It turns out this book is not a childproof story, as the title, cover and prologue may have indicated to me; it is in fact a story full of paper cuts, scars and emotional suffering. The novel opens up in heartbreak and feelings of loss and abandonment that afflicts almost all the major characters. Self-inflicted pain is a subsequent and recurrent motif in the book that is initiated as a mode of escapism by most of these miserable characters. While I was searching for a topic for my research paper, I came across a few texts that talk about psychological detachment and disassociation as a way of protecting oneself from a horrific experience/reality, and I started to pick up on how the characters in People of Paper are severely traumatized. Even some of the minor characters that we only get a glimpse of, such as Sandra and Merced, show signs of emotional torment through nightmares and addictions. These characters are willing to endure physical pain in replacement of the emotional, and this act of constriction or numbing is a way of resisting their individual traumatic narratives. Each night, Federico de la Fe sticks his hand into his stove “until it hurt so much that he could not feel his sadness” (20). For him, fire cured his itch, his bed-wetting, and his sadness.
In the light of this reading, the war against Saturn is another method of resisting the trauma narrative, as members of the EMF attempt to conceal their thoughts and memories by hiding under lead that is too dense of a metal that “not even the most powerful x-ray in the universe could penetrate” (26). They will be able to escape these thoughts if they manage to hide them from Saturn who is responsible for writing about their experiences and is therefore the cause of their emotional suffering. Consequently, the “fight for emancipation” is initiated and the EMF members cover their houses with lead. It’s interesting to see that the repression of their psychological and emotional pains always must come with a price as the lead causes their stomachaches and subsequent vomiting. Figuratively, their escape from their grief through silence, again, causes them physical pain.
Another method of escaping emotional pain by avoiding being on Saturn’s radar is achieved by baby Nostradamus and Little Merced. Baby Nostradamus teaches Little Merced mental strategies to consciously block her thoughts from Saturn and she is able to acquire that power and gradually progress through practice. I think several aspects of the book remind us all a little of House of Leaves, especially the layout and the use of metanarratives, but have you noticed the many random dots in the book? For my midterm project, I talked about the appearances of various forms of dots in House of Leaves and suggested that they represented absence, silence, emotional void etc. and I find it quite daunting that the big dots that appear at the end of the book are one form of Little Merced’s silenced thoughts.