The Young Man
From Savoy

Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz
Blake Robinson, Translator
Joseph Jacquet lives in a small French village, just above Lake Geneva, which "gave off a great light and another light came from the sky."

Joseph works on an old sailing boat. He talks to himself. "There are things that are false and things that are real," he says. "There are things you imagine, and there are things that exist; how can you tell where the first begin and the second end?"

Joseph is about to marry Georgette but down at the Petit Marin café he gets involved with the barmaid Mercédès. "Somewhere deep in the night a swan beat its wings. Then on the other side of the water across from them, there was a violet-colored flash: 'That's the trolleys. It's when they change the direction a trolley's taking. They've got a trick,'" Mercédès tells him.

When Mercédès invites him back, locking the door so he cannot escape, he strangles her.

A strange murder and two suicides in the simple world of simple French people between the wars. As Joseph leaves Mercédès's room, "he breathed in with all his strength the fresh pure air, because she was deceitfulness, because she was untruthfulness."

    "Well," he was saying, "I did the right thing."

    "It lay there, an ochre-colored staff in the pink water...The world made clean, he was thinking. All is beginning, or all is beginning again, it's the world made clean."

This was written in 1936. It reeks of existentialism a decade before existentialism was even invented. The randomness of life, the randomness of evil, and death. It is all very disquieting, very symbolic, very hard to put down, and very good.

--- Annette Leclaire

The House of

Askold Melnyczuk
(Graywolf Press)
We had to leave The House of Widows when the author introduced us to Bean, an Iraqi street kid, age nine. He tried to pick up a cluster-bomb and it blew off his arms and legs. They call him "the Bean."

He survives and they send him to a hospital in Vienna. The doctors want to send him on to England to study. "Next to Stephen Hawking, he's Rocky Balboa," says one of them.

--- Wendy Rice

The Mirror in
The Well

Micheline Aharonian Marcom
(Dalkey Archive)
He is a carpenter ... pale, not handsome, hands nicked by his work, a little round in the tum. She is what the Perfumed Garden would call "indefatigable." She is made crazy by her passion for him.

A good 50% of The Mirror in the Well seems to be her "spreading her thighs" --- her favorite phrase. It's a hell of a lot of work for very little payoff. At times, a smidgen of poetry peeks through,

    But in bed the gods descend again and he is a thousand years old and she is his night and the darkness makes them into eternal lovers and everything is right and good and joy moves from her form out into the night skies stars which she doesn't see in her city and back again as light moves.

§     §     §

Mixed with the constant in-and-out are her sulks, her threats of suicide, her not-too-pertinent dreams, and nags: he doesn't love her enough, should she be going home to her husband and kids, could he play it again please Sam?

In the hands of someone like Henry Miller or J. P. Donleavy or even D. H. Lawrence, this lust stuff can be a kick. But here the CD is, as they say in Spanish, "bien rayado."

It's the "Story of O" without the order (or orders). Thank god the carpenter finally throws a mattress atop the shavings on the floor or else we'd be rubbed raw. There is some half-hearted by-play with a cat-o'-nine-tails and what the pornistas call the "water-works," but mostly it's the old hum-drum beast-with-two-backs, or, at worst, Last Tango in Paris, not with Marlon but with Marcom.

And without the tango.

--- Lolita Lark

The Magical Campus
University of North Carolina Writings ---
1917 - 1920

Thomas Wolfe
Matthew J. Bruccoli,
Aldo P. Magi,

(University of South Carolina)
We all went through our Thomas Wolfe stage, usually starting with Look Homeward, Angel. It took a while for us to get beyond it, and it usually came from growing up, or, worse, a surfeit of Wolfean prose ---- somewhere, say, around the middle of The Web and the Rock.

We wondered then, still do: where is Max Perkins now that we need him?

Still, I can't think of anything crueler than putting up Wolfe's earliest writings for public consumption, a Wolfe even more juvenile than in his late novels.

Here he is, at age seventeen, on the subject of France and the Great War:

    O France, you truly are sublime,
       The thought of you shall make men thrill
    Throughout all ages and time.
       Your story lives and ever will.

    When the Huns came down with bloody hand,
       And left fair Belgium desolate,
    Up bravely from their peaceful land
       Rushed strong defenders of thy state....

And here is a snippet from The Return of Buck Gavin: The Tragedy of a Mountain Outlaw as played by Wolfe at what the editors call "The Magical Campus," the University of North Carolina, 1919:

    He was plumb foolish over the view from the Smoky. Called it a leetle bit o' God's country. Used to go up there an' stare off 'cross the valleys till the sun got low an' everythin' was blurred an' hazy-like ... I reckon you done the right thing to plant him there. Good ol' Jim. It's 'bout all we could do. But the best warn't good 'nough fer him.

If you are a published writer, let this be a warning to you. Burn everything you ever wrote before you reached the age of reason. Because, for sure, in a half-century or so, one of those hungry English majors will dig it up, put it in book form to shame the memory of you, to disgrace all your later writings.

--- Pamela Wylie
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