A French writer takes a close look at his family’s dysfunctional dynamics.
Le Tellier (Eléctrico W, 2013, etc.)—a member of Oulipo, the eccentric French group of writers and mathematicians who seek to create works within constrained writing techniques—places his life under the microscope to examine his childhood and the people and places that affected him throughout his life. He shares intimate and minute details about his great-grandparents, grandparents, father, mother, and stepfather and how each person changed him as he was growing up. Sometimes the changes were subtle, other times more profound, but the author explores each with the advantage of age and wisdom looking back at youth. Le Tellier focuses in particular on his mother and her childhood before moving on to chronicle how she treated him poorly as a young adult and the incredible lies she told him. Much of her behavior was caused by the fact that she was likely “crazy” and “had lost touch with reality.” Eventually, writes the author, her “madness descended into burlesque.” Nonetheless, Le Tellier longed for his mother’s love; then she became ill with Alzheimer’s, and the situation deteriorated further. In some of the more moving moments, the author reflects on what life was like in France under the Nazis, how deeply he was affected by a film on the concentration camps, and how the deaths of important childhood friends and a girlfriend have impacted his life. Through the process of writing this memoir, it’s apparent Le Tellier is coming to terms with the many fraught relationships of his life and the successes and disappointments he experienced during his youth. The writing is unquestionably sincere, but the story is overly particular and may not resonate much beyond the author’s intimate circle.
A brief, adequate memoir in which the author attempts to decipher his complicated, multilayered childhood in order to understand the adult he is today.