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Rouaud's second novel, filled with nostalgia and turgid prose, fails to live up to the promise of his Prix Goncourt -- winning debut (Fields of Glory, 1992). In this slim volume, which reads less like a novel and more like a memoir, the narrator tries to nail down his elusive, demigod father who died suddenly at the age of 41. From the perspective of an adult, the narrator sifts through his childhood memories of the few moments he spent with this traveling salesman in their hometown of Random in the Loire Valley, as well as the history of his father's work with the Resistance during WW II. These moments made a great impression on the boy, who obviously longed for a stronger paternal presence, and the narrator lengthily describes each remembrance so as not to miss a hint of meaning in the little he knows of his father: the collection of postcards his father sent from every town he stayed in and what he wrote on the back; the educational wall charts his father sold, one with a cutaway diagram of the body that lacked genitalia and another with a modestly posed Lady Godiva; how his father organized the cleanup of every dish, glass, shelf, and wall in the family's porcelain shop after a forgotten oil lamp covered the room with a layer of soot. Sometimes the narrator does find answers to the question ""Who was my father?"" in these details: He was a take-charge kind of guy who could rally people to scrub spotless a store that seemed hopelessly dirty; or he was a funny guy who wrote ""How many cows can you count on this postcard?"" when there wasn't even one. But too often, the details read like the shopping list of an adult obsessed with an enigma. Tender and sweet if you can slosh through the excess.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Arcade