A BREATH OF AIR by DorothÉe Letessier

A BREATH OF AIR

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KIRKUS REVIEW

I need some breathing room. I'm only allowed to feel what everybody lets me feel, grudgingly. I've lost touch with my feelings. I feel like nothing, like no one."" So begins this fitfully engaging, largely whiny monologue by Maryvonne, 28, a factory-worker, wife, and mother--who, fed up with her wearisome life, impulsively takes off for a week of blessed solitude. Boarding a bus for the nearby Brittany resort-town of Paimpol, Marryvonne looks forward to ""seven days to invent and reinvent myself."" She broods bitterly on her dehumanizing, enervating factory job--with evocations of the daily grind, the pollution, the noise, a co-worker's grief, a frustrating shop-committee meeting, a briefly exciting (ultimately meaningless) strike. She ponders her love for her son, doomed to wane eventually. (""I won't ever be his wife or his daughter. My autonomous child will never live up to the original orgasm."") She recalls the bygone passions of courtship/newlywed days, laments the present condition of her marriage (boredom, inequity), and rails against male-chauvinist pigdom--especially after a fellow hotel-guest in Paimpol makes a crude, rape-like pass. (""They all make me sick with their slimy paws, their stupidity, and all their hate. . . Men make me feel ashamed to be human."") And, throughout, while shopping and wandering, Maryvonne slips into fantasies--of what it would be like to be rich, or Russian, or Marilyn Monroe, or a kinky femme fatale. (""I sprawl out on perfumed furs and he joins me, catlike in his rustling lamÉ dressing gown."") After only one day of this, however, Maryvonne loses her wallet. So she's forced to hitchhike home, anticipating a super-sexual welcome from her abandoned husband. . . but receiving a sobering jolt instead. One or two of Maryvonne's daydreams generate some mild amusement. The rest, unfortunately, is an over-familiar assortment of feminist/proletarian gripes: reasonably authentic (Letessier herself was a Brittany factory-worker for four years) but oddly uncompelling--in an English translation that fails to find vivid, convincing equivalents for Maryvonne's slangy, idiomatic French.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1984
Publisher: Penguin