Described as "the greatest writer of Chile's younger generation," Alejandro Zambra is a unique writer, one who, like his alterego Julian, also an author, ties himself to the most mundane aspects of everyday life, which he then describes succinctly and, at times, lovingly. There are no spectacular scenes, no dramatic displays of emotion, and no real plot here, just the story of Julian, a university professor who, on Sundays, works on his novel, a long project which was once three hundred pages but which he has whittled down to a mere forty-seven pages. His novel is about a young man tending a bonsai tree, similar to one given to Julian by his friends, and which he has neglected to the point that it may die.
Julian has been happily married for three years to Veronica, who brought her five-year-old daughter Daniela into the marriage, and it is for Daniela that he tells a never-ending story of the private life of trees. On this evening, however, Veronica has gone to her art class and has not come home. Julian is nervous and wonders if she has left him. He passes the time that night writing about her, their life together, and their past lives, and he says he will stop writing when she returns home, or when he is convinced that she will not return.
As he writes, the reader comes to know something about all the characters and about the writing process. Time passes as in a dream, with present and past overlapping, memories surfacing and vanishing, and Julian's imagination creating new scenarios which get interrupted and then change directions. He envisions Daniela someday reading the thoughts he has recorded while awaiting Veronica's return--maybe when she is thirty.
When Julian's writing ends, author Zambra continues. Using the point of view of Daniela, he shows her as an older woman as she considers reading Julian's novel, which she thinks may be, like all fiction, just "novelists' absurd farces." Zambra touches on the process of writing fiction, what it means, and whether it is important, as he moves into the future, giving an ending to Julian's thoughts during that crucial night. Filled with warmth and a sly sense of humor about writing, life in Chile, and his main character Julian, Zambra creates a wonderful irony--it is almost impossible to remember that the main character is Julian and not Alejandro Zambra. Those who believe that "more is better" may be surprised at how much Zambra can reveal in the belief that "less is more." Mary Whipple