ONE DEADLY SUMMER by Sebastien Japrisot
Kirkus Star


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Slow to build as its four narrators come and go, this psychological crime-suspense is nevertheless unreeled with the taut, confident shaping of a grand master; Japrisot, often a deeply moody but muddily contrived plotter (The Lady in the Car with Classes and a Gun, The Sleeping-Car Murders), has finally found just the right balance between very Gallic atmospheric density and ironic, tragically twisting events. His first narrator is big, oafish 30-year-old village garage-mechanic ""Ping Pong,"" who inarticulately (but engagingly) tells us about his two younger brothers, his late father, his old mother and aunt, and above all about his infatuation with a newcomer to town--19-year-old Elle, daughter of a German mother (""Eva Braun"" to the village) and a paralyzed French father. Then Elle herself continues the story, and as she chronicles her canny seduction of Ping Pong (moving in with his generally appalled family, pretending pregnancy, wangling marriage), we get strong hints of Elle's true motives and grim secrets: her keen interest in Ping Pong's dead father; her intense, even sexual relationship with her mother; her guilt over causing her own father's paralysis. (Apparently she had a fit and hit him on the head with a spade.) And by the time that Ping Pong's old aunt and Elle's mother have also narrated, filling in some memories, the past and future scenario is clear: Elle's mother was raped 20 years ago by three men in a truck, one of whom was Ping Pong's father--so now Elle (who's been unhinged by learning that she's the child of that rape) is out for revenge. So the narration then returns to her, as she tracks down the two surviving rapists, plans to kill them (unwittingly aided by a devoted lesbian lover), but then decides to take ali-in-one revenge by having Ping Pong kill the two men; she falsely accuses them of rape. The last word, however, returning full circle, is Ping Pong's: he acts exactly as Elle has planned--and, after Elle's cagey madness has turned into near-catatonia, he discovers that not only has he killed for the wrong reason, but also that he has killed the wrong men. . . . Japrisot (with an heroic assist by translator Sheridan) captures the four different French-village voices here with gritty, poignantly detailed conviction; only Elle's crazy-person talk sometimes verges on clichÉ And the rendering of gossipy village life and of a very French hothouse family-unit (Ping Pong's mother and brothers bang on the wall to protest his noisy lovemaking with Elle) is funny, awful, first-rate. In other hands, this sexual melodrama might have come across as both contrived and lurid; here, however, it's a rich and resonant sonata in black, astutely suspended between mythic tragedy and the grubby pathos of nagging everyday life.

Pub Date: May 22nd, 1980
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich