Newly translated stories from the author of The Sound of Things Falling (2013, etc.).
Set in Belgium and France, these are mostly stories of middle-aged men and women who have reached—or are just past—crisis points in their relationships. Hunting is also a recurring theme. In “The All Saints’ Day Lovers,” a man is surprised when, after months of contemplating a split, his wife is the one who chooses to leave. In “The Lodger,” a husband realizes that, in death, his wife’s old lover will haunt their marriage forever. In “At the Café de la République,” a man worried that he has cancer convinces the wife he’s abandoned to accompany him on a visit to his estranged father. The women in these stories are lovely ciphers. The men are incapable of self-reflection but suffused with self-pity. One narrator asserts that “lovers are not made for pondering the consequences of their own actions.” That this character would believe this is utterly plausible, but such willful opacity makes for some rather enervated fiction. The text is occasionally enlivened with an evocative detail or a striking metaphor—“The rubber soles of their waterproof boots barely dented the silence”; morning sickness is “a ball of nausea the size of a horse’s eye”—but these moments are rare. The strongest piece in the collection, “The Return,” is thematically and stylistically exceptional. The pair at its center is not a husband and wife, but, rather, two sisters. “I’ll tell the story as it was told to me,” the narrator announces at the beginning. The distance between reader and narrative that is typical of these works doesn’t feel like an emotional gulf here. Instead, it becomes a classic Gothic framing device, perfect for a tale of murder and revenge.
Lackluster accounts of men feeling sorry for themselves. Sometimes while hunting.