From the Italian-born author, now a Paris resident, an unappetizing little tale about a young woman; this is Jabès’ first book to be published in the U.S.
When Alice saunters through the streets of Rome, old men and boys on scooters stop to stare. When another woman compliments her on her extravagant high heels, Alice offers shy, but pleased, thanks. When she looks in the mirror, Alice loves what she sees—until her father tells her, “If you’re a woman, you’re either beautiful, or you’re nice…You are not beautiful, so you must be…nice.” In an attempt to restore the sense of self destroyed by this casually cruel statement, Alice begins eating. In her effort to be nice to men, Alice becomes a prostitute. These two phenomena coalesce—rather stickily—in a unique sexual specialty: Alice performs fellatio while eating. This makes her very popular with a very specific clientele for a time, but, ultimately, Alice becomes so squalidly voluminous that her customers dissipate. Out of money and out of food, she finally turns herself into a grand meal for two escaped mental patients. That contemporary young women are unhealthily concerned with their appearance should come as a surprise to no one. This is one of the rare points on which feminist psychologists and “family values” types agree, and Jabès doesn’t offer any new perspective on the issue with her greasy, gruesome little fable. Nor does this novella function as erotica; it’s useful neither as food porn nor as the more traditional type. Alice’s feasts of calamari fritters, spiced olives, gorgonzola and raspberry ice cream are rendered as mere grocery lists, and the sex scenes are equally perfunctory. Indeed, pretty much everything in this story is abbreviated—not in the universal and resonant shorthand of myth or fairy tale, but with a rather presumptuous carelessness. The publisher offers this slender volume as part of a series of “short European fiction,” and they’re not kidding about “short”: Even a slow, attentive reader should be able to get through it in under an hour.
The food here is terrible, and the portions are too small.