Two novellas—one torrid, the other patently inane—mark the American debut of a bestselling French sensation. In ``The Butcher,'' a female art student works in a butcher shop during the summer and, while minding the till, morbidly watches the butcher hack apart meat. Having just had her first sexual experience, the narrator sees sex in everything. And this lust isn't dissipated by the incredibly crude sweet nothings the fat, older butcher whispers in her ear. At first she simply enjoys his elaborate verbal fantasies, then she gives in, and her description of an afternoon of primal sex is as earthy and intense as anything seen in highbrow literature for quite some time. Brief, raw, and straight to the point, ``The Butcher'' makes for extremely steamy reading. ``Lucie's Long Voyage,'' by contrast, is a rambling modern fairy tale narrated by a young squatter in an unnamed, slightly futuristic city who goes up into the mountains and cohabits with a bear in a cave. When she returns to the city, with child, she takes up residence in an abandoned church, then gets the urge to write and searches out the library, which is really a museum for books. There, she meets an old man, a writer, who—since she reminds him of a woman he knew 50 years before—winds up telling her his own fairy tale. Then the city is swallowed by an earthquake. Purposefully disjointed, the simplistic observations about death and harmony could have been written by an earnest teenager under the influence of one too many fantasy novels. After the sultry prose of ``The Butcher,'' the second, decidedly unerotic novella seems like a case of false advertising.
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