Illuminating stories about the everyday—self-image, problematic relationships, the need for love—marred only by Schmitt’s unfortunate tendency to use heavy-handed irony in the stories’ conclusions.
In the first story, “The Dreamer from Ostend,” we meet an author, also the narrator, recently disappointed in love. Spending time in Ostend because he’s attracted by the exoticism of the name, he meets Emma Van A, the elderly aunt of his landlady, who has spent all of her life among her thousands of books and whose direct experience of life seems limited. Her reading has been confined exclusively to the classics, her greatest literary love being Homer. To the narrator she begins to spin a story of her past, one more than a little tinged with an eroticism that seems out of keeping with her staid present. After exploring the thin line between fact and fiction, Schmitt doesn’t leave his story tantalizingly ambiguous but instead clunkily confirms the existence of Emma’s lover. In “Perfect Crime”—almost Hitchcockian in its plot—Gabrielle de Sarlat becomes convinced that her husband of many years can’t possibly be as good as he seems. A “triggering” event brought about by a usually astute neighbor has persuaded Gabrielle that her husband is nothing more than a hypocrite hiding his numerous lovers, so she murders him. Although a witness to the crime exists, she’s exculpated...but eventually realizes her mistake. “Getting Better” introduces us to Stéphanie, a nurse taking care of a handsome man who’s been terribly injured in an accident. Stéphanie has never found herself attractive, but despite his blindness he convinces her she’s beautiful based on her voice and her delicate scent. His flattery leads to a transformation.
While all of Schmitt’s stories are well worth reading, when an ironic conclusion becomes predictable (à la O. Henry), it subverts its own desire to surprise.