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by Yasmina Reza ; translated by John Cullen

Pub Date: Jan. 27th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-509515-692-8
Publisher: Other Press

French playwright and novelist Reza, best known in America for her 2009 Tony Award–winning play, God of Carnage, offers 20 scenes to show the interlocking lives of various Parisian spouses, lovers, parents, children and friends.

Although the title derives from a Borges poem, the intellectual pretentions do not weigh as heavily as they might; the scenes are brief, with limited punctuation and no paragraphing—as if to emphasize the evanescence and rapidly changing nature of relationships. No one is exactly the central protagonist here, but the opening belongs to the most frequently seen characters, Robert and Odile Toscano, whose push-pull of irritation and attraction during an argument over car keys represents the universal state of marriage. In a later scene, Robert grouses after the couple attends a party hosted by Remi, a lawyer who turns out to be Odile’s lover. Remi is acquainted with professional gambler Yorgos, whose friend Raoul played cards with Odile’s father, Ernest Blot, to help him recover from depression after a coronary bypass. Ernest’s sister, Marguerite, a Spanish professor, may be hopelessly in love with a colleague, but she seems like a strong woman compared to Ernest’s wife, Jeannette, when they clothes shop together after Jeannette’s 70th birthday party. And then there are Robert’s friends Luc and Lionel, who tells the other two the secret reason he and his wife, Pascaline, seem so devoted: Their son, Jacob, is in a mental hospital because he believes he's Céline Dion. Raoul’s wife, Hélène, runs into Igor, Jacob's psychiatrist, with whom she has an erotic history. And so the relationships unspool and reknot scene after scene to include a professionally caring, personally demented oncologist; unhappy mistresses; wives; mothers and children. The difficulty in keeping track of the names seems to be purposeful, a complex game of matching up characters in various patterns as lives sometimes crisscross, sometimes run parallel, until the Toscanos take center stage again in a funeral finale that brings everyone into new relief.

Feather light but oddly compelling.