THE RULES OF THE GAME by Georges Simenon


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One of the recurring themes in Simenon's non-Maigret, psycho-sociological fiction is the disintegration of a middle-aged man--undone, one way or another, by the pressures of bourgeois conformity. The special wrinkle--for better and worse--in this short 1955 novel is that the middle-class society under inspection is suburban Connecticut, not Paris or the provinces. Walter Higgins, 45, is a modest, upright American success-story; starting as a floor-sweeper, he has risen to the position of supermarket manager; he lives pleasantly, soberly, with his wife (pregnant again) and four kids in a nice house in one of Williamson, Connecticut's nicest neighborhoods. But Higgins is on the verge of total breakdown--because, for the second time, his application to join the local country club has been rejected! For Higgins, this ""was nothing less than the collapse of everything he had doggedly built up as an adult, It was the collapse of his very self. . ."" He feels alternating waves of shame and rage, vowing revenge (""I'll kill them!"") on the slightly tonier types--a doctor, a lawyer, a pharmacist, a factory-owner--who dominate at the country club. He impetuously sides with the working-class faction at a schoolboard meeting. Then comes the final jolt: Higgins' mother, an alcoholic lunatic, escapes from her ""rest home"" and turns up dead, hit by a bus, in the seedy New Jersey town where Higgins was born. And, after a traumatic glance back at his shabby roots, Higgins goes briefly catatonic, emerging from the experience ready to embrace middle-classdom again--but now with cynicism rather than American-Dream naivetÉ: ""What was important was to conform to the rules, certainly, but, most of all, to know it was all a game."" Simenon's portrait of 1950's US suburbia is riddled with false notes, from not-quite-right details (place-names, supermarket specifics) to the unlikely invocation of Communist Party rhetoric at a Connecticut school-board meeting. Higgins' sociological trauma never seems plausible; the revelations about his past (deserting father, mad mother) come too late, and remain too superficially explored, to provide psychological reasonance. Nonetheless, as creakily didactic and thinly imagined as this novella is, it's an undeniably intriguing curiosity for Simenon followers--and also has moments of odd, subdued power as a sort of existential, near-surreal fable.

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 1988
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich