CHEROKEE by Jean Echenoz


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Full of whimsical digressions, rococo coincidence, and low-key verbal wit, this short French novel (following in the nouveau roman footsteps of Raymond Queneau) offers a laconic, absurd variation on some old thriller formulas--with fitfully engaging results. In the fragmented, hard-to-follow opening chapters, we meet two Parisian cousins--out-of-touch for a dozen or so years--whose paths are about to cross. George Chave, a near-penniless jazz buff, takes a job with a dubious detective-agency; the agency's current case-load includes a stolen parrot, a runaway wife, and the search for an heir to the billion-franc Ferro fortune. Meanwhile, George's cousin Fred Shapiro, a shady businessman, takes a job as investment advisor to rich Englishman Ferguson Gibbs; and Gibbs' primary current projects are the takeover of a ludicrous cult (""rayonic"" worshippers of the ""Sister-in-Law"") and. . .the search for an heir to the billion-france Ferro fortune! Soon, then, Fred--with a brigade of seedy cohorts--will be shadowing (or kidnapping) cousin George, who's way out ahead in the heir-search. But along the way George loses interest in the treasure hunt: having fallen in love-at-first-sight with a beautiful stranger named Jimmy Weltman, he thereafter spends most of his time following any clue that might lead to his vanishing dream-girl. This casually labyrinthine scenario is further complicated by a pair of inept cops, George's sneaky detective-agency colleagues, and a series of collapsing automobiles. There are farcical chases and sieges, leading to a showdown/finale in the French Alps (part jam session, part cult-hysteria, part shoot-out). But readers looking for any traditional satisfactions--in plot or character--will be disappointed. Instead, the sporadic pleasure here arises from Echenoz's droll turns-of-phrase (gamely translated), from the daffy sideshows (e.g., the life story of a 60-year-old parrot), and from the playfully off-key echoes of mystery/film-noir clichÉs. And though marred by artsy disjunctions and Gallic preciousness, Echenoz's elaborate doodle may divert those who've enjoyed similar (less pretentious) fabrications by William Marshall, Jerry Oster, and many others.

Pub Date: June 17th, 1987
Publisher: Godine