A well-written, articulate US debut, a collection of moments and glimpses rendered in a drowsily meditative prose, chronicles an improbably successful partnership between two women as they wrestle together a contentment that has thus far eluded them.
The nameless first-person narrator, a freelance ad copywriter and a single mother with various unsatisfying men in her life, hires Olivia to baby-sit her children, Thomas and Suzanne. Olivia, an obese drug addict in exile from the streets, is invited to move in, and the yearlong dialogue between the two women carries along much of the tale, much of it pervaded by a feeling of ennui. The opening pages nicely capture the narrator's drifting, loveless malaise as she grapples with the dissatisfactions of her work and the always-looming need for income. Olivia—wounded, ill, filled with secrets and unspoken cruelties from her past—ignites her employer's interest. A woman of engaging opacity and a penchant for untimely confession, she disorients the narrator's sense of order in the world with her routines, habits of mind—indeed, her very psychology. Olivia's moral structure, her method of friendship, and the contours of her history are unlike anything the copywriter has seen. Along with her penchant for abrasive tales of drug use and sexual abuse, Olivia displays a very soulful capacity for friendship and solicitude. "Olivia's genius," the narrator writes, "saunters through the territory of goodness, whistling." In an inversion of fortunes, Olivia goes back to school, loses weight, and quits drugs while the narrator, after dwelling among suicidal passions for an anxious weekend, elects to move back home with her parents. As a final note, she begins a novel (presumably this one) concerning an unlikely friendship between two women.
The crises seem desultory, and the triumphs somewhat cheerless, but French author Desplechin captures a thick sense of "everydayness"—which is, after all, where much of our lives are spent.