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DESOLATION by Yasmina Reza


by Yasmina Reza & translated by Carol Brown Janeway

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 2002
ISBN: 0-375-41087-2
Publisher: Knopf

A somewhat lugubrious debut from French playwright Reza (the Tony Award–winning Art).

In the tradition of Mauriac, Reza has created an intensely interior work, essentially a long monologue by an old man who looks over the events of his life as he faces the prospect of death and eternity. Samuel, the narrator, is a Parisian Jew who spent most of his life in the garment trade and did quite well. He keeps an apartment in town but spends more of his time in the country, in the home of Nancy, his second wife. His daughter is married to a dutiful but unimaginative pharmacist, and they have a baby boy—the narrator’s only grandchild. Samuel’s son is on a “sabbatical” year abroad, wandering from Mombasa to Kuala Lumpur to God-knows-where, and Samuel addresses much of his meditation to him, wondering what he is going to do with his life and when he is going to find some direction. An avid gardener, Samuel meets Genevieve Abramowitz, an old friend, at a flower show in Paris one day and proceeds to spend the rest of the day with her. As they reminisce about old friends and lovers (this is Paris, after all), Genevieve tells him how she “killed” their mutual friend Leo Fench (who had been Genevieve’s lover) by dropping him for another man. Samuel, for his part, recalls a long affair he had with Marisa Botton, the wife of one of his clients in Rouen. Cantankerous, rude, and cheap, Samuel is not the sort who inspires love easily, but his long confession, although seemingly pointless at times, succeeds in humanizing him and opens his heart to a degree that one rarely finds in first-person narratives. By the end, he has become more sympathetic than one could have expected.

Touching and honest, but unsatisfying all the same: Samuel’s monologue seems, not surprisingly, to be written more for the stage than the page.