Jules Renard is the magician of the perfectly realized minor effect. He constructs a pure, hard-edged prose, lapidary in its choice of the right word, politely stinging or dry or sardonic in tone. Though he died in 1910, and had a rather slender creative output, he continues to be a force of some power in French letters. The mighty Sartre himself considered Renard important enough to rebuke, cautioning his generation against the seductive appeal of Renard's elegance which Sartre mistakenly regarded as a product of the bourgeois imagination. One says mistakenly since Poil de Carotte, Renard's most famous novel (later made into a successful play and film), is as cool and ironic a picture of the nineteenth century middle class as any radical could wish. It is also, of course, distinctly disengaged, without any social or psychological ramifications, and here Sartre's strictures have some point. The delight of the book--essentially a series of autobiographical sketches concerning a sensitive boy, his dragon mother and put-upon father--is the lilting acidity Renard squeezes out of thoroughly commonplace domestic battles, shopkeeper mentalities, backwater schooling, and all manner of suppressed heartaches. A deft, superbly economical family comedy.