A review of

My Life in CIA

by Harry Mathews

Central question: If we are only who we say we are, who are we permitted to say we are?
Format: 203 pp, paperback; Size: 5.5" x 8.5"; Price: $13.95 ; Publisher: Dalkey Archive; Editor: John O’Brien; Print run: 8,000; Book designer: N. J. Furl; Typeface: Adobe Caslon; Most important event in author’s life as writer: relearning handwriting, age 29; Sexual orientation of author: romantic; Author’s use of dark glasses: only after dark; Representative passage: “The one really unpleasant consequence I faced was deliberately associating myself with an organization that in my world was universally condemned. But wasn’t that a price I was paying already?

Harry Mathews is an absurdist and the only American member of the French experimental literary organization OuLiPo. The bulk of his writing is obsessed with the logical pleasures of structured game play. He is bald. No more than four people alive today would mistake Mathews for a secret agent, but in the late 1960s, after a vacation in Laos to visit a friend who also happened to be a British diplomat, Mathews found himself the subject of a rumor linking him with the CIA. For many years, even his close Parisian friends were convinced Mathews was working undercover, despite his protests. Exasperated, Mathews decided to begin acting the part he’d been arbitrarily assigned, and this is where the central action of My Life in CIA, a novel disguised as a memoir disguised as a novel, takes root.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Matthew Derby

Matthew Derby is the author of Super Flat Times. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

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