A Parisian reflects on his life in this subdued mood piece from a prolific French author (The Waitress Was New, 2008).
They’re a dime a dozen, these middle-aged guys, striding purposefully along Paris streets to disguise their lack of purpose. Watch the divorced ones grab a few precious moments with their kids. They have no future, so they return to memories of the past in an endless loop. The unnamed narrator is representative. He’s a 54-year-old lifelong Parisian (like the author) with a bitter divorce years behind him. His only child, Benjamin, is now in his 20s. His unspecified office job is a salve; he’s on automatic pilot until he retires. A chance encounter with his childhood friend Jean brings back memories. Jean is in worse shape: He has no job, no prospects. But their other childhood friend Marco has shot ahead, making the leap into a happy second marriage while prospering financially. Think of them as The Winner, The Loser and Mr. In-Between. A storyline flickers when they meet for dinner and Marco finds Jean a job, but Jean has a bad attitude and loses it. However, there’s hope for our guy after online dating brings him Marie, a nurse. They hit it off, and the discovery that Marie has breast cancer actually strengthens the relationship; he’s always there for her when she needs him. As important as these human interactions is the city itself. Paris is changing around them, old neighborhoods being demolished, others gentrifying. Fabre names them affectionately but without the details that would animate them. Will Jean thrive in Marseilles, where he’s gone to spend time with his elderly mother? Will Marie and her new beau stay together? There is little urgency behind these questions, enclosed as they are by the novel’s settled melancholy.
Fabre lacks the alchemy to make ordinary lives extraordinary.