The paradox embedded in the title captures the existential mood of these 13 stories, in which characters remain largely anonymous and situations full of angst.
French novelist Brebel’s (Francis Bacon's Armchair, 2016, etc.) book comes in at just about 100 pages, so each story unfolds quickly—though “story” in a formal sense is perhaps a misnomer. Brebel is instead a chronicler of pain and meaninglessness. In “Off-Season,” for example, almost every sentence begins with the word “She,” and the life of this unnamed woman is presented in simple, declarative sentences: “She subsists solely on cereal and canned food and consumes large amounts of instant coffee. She limits her electricity usage to the necessary minimum and brushes her teeth at least three times a day.” When a man enters her room, she fantasizes about his intentions, but they exchange no words and she subsides into the mundanity of her existence. In “Intimacy,” a man “reads” a photograph of his former girlfriend and tries to conjure up the circumstances under which it was taken. Because the photo shows her in a bathtub, he projects himself into the sensuality of the image as well as into the hypothetical lasciviousness of the photographer. Ultimately, of course, she remains an image and an object, separated from the narrator’s life. “Infiltration” focuses on a woman who once again experiences the tension between fantasy and the quotidian. At one point a man gives her his hotel room key, and she enters the room when she knows he’s not there. She searches the room and dreamily fantasizes about what she might mean to him, concluding that “they would make...a mismatched and pathetic couple, their life together obsessively regimented by the whim of her emotions while he devotedly obeyed her smallest requests.”
Brebel writes well, and the stories are elegantly translated, but there’s only one gear on his voiture, and his writing scarcely discloses a shred of humor.