THE STEPSON by Emmanuel Bove


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 Bove (Quicksand, 1991) employs skeletal language with surgical detachment to dissect the agony of social climbing. Jean-Melchior Oetlinger, a young artist living in Paris with his brother and sister following their father's death, becomes estranged from his siblings because of his affair with Ernestine Mercier. In 1904, when their son is seven, Jean-Melchior meets Annie Villemur de Falais, a young woman from a good family who is dabbling in the arts. Enchanted by her and the easy life she represents, he convinces her to defy her parents and marry him, and the two move to Nice. On their way, they snatch his child, Jean- Noâl, from his mother. As the years wear on, Annie tires of her husband but, since she is no longer close to her family, feels she must stay with him. Jean-Melchior falls ill and dies, and in 1916 Annie and Jean-Noâl move back to Paris. The remainder of the novel deals with the social-climbing attempts of the various characters, principally Jean-Noâl, who is quite taken not only with his stepmother, but with her family, which to him represents the finer things in life. He becomes involved with a string of women, but all of his relationships are governed by his interpretations of Annie's judgments. Annie, meanwhile, encourages him to be productive, first when he claims to be interested in painting, and then when he decides to become a lawyer. His indecision becomes comical as he casts about trying to satisfy his stepmother and her family, who are only put off further and further by his failure to commit to anything or anyone. The bare prose creates an ironic distance with which Bove is occasionally able to prove that even a minimalist can display a sense of humor, albeit a cool one.

Pub Date: July 15th, 1994
ISBN: 1-56897-029-3
Page count: 314pp
Publisher: Northwestern Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1994


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