The Woman
In the Row

Françoise Dorner
Adriana Hunter,

(Other Press)
Roger and Nina run a news kiosk in Paris. You may think that running a news kiosk, even in Paris, would be a bummer, and might even make for a boring novel. You're right.

My sophomore English teacher Dr. Sargent said that when reading a novel critically, one should always look for the "watershed." Everything leads up to it, he said: and once passed, everything leads (naturally) away from it.

I guess the watershed in this poop-pile is when plainly-dressed Nina suddenly dolls herself up in raincoat, black wig, stiletto heels, and "orchid scent" and follows her husband about the arrondissement. She proclaims,

    This girl wasn't really me. I didn't recognize myself. She didn't look like the girl I would have liked to be. She didn't mean anything to me.

Roger evidently doesn't recognize her either. She follows him into a movie theatre, sits behind him, exuding orchid perfume and hot-pants. Roger is the guy who turns over and snores the moment she crawls in bed. But, under the influence of her new styling, he stretches back like a cat. She nibbles his ear and "he melts with pleasure," not unlike, we assume, processed American cheese. Or, better, pure Camembert.

And what does he do? He starts babbling in Mandarin. "Wo aí ni" he says. It means "I love you," she relates. He speaks, she tells us, in "flawless Chinese." (Evidently Nina has been sneaking off to classes at Le Berlitz Paris while Roger --- and the reader --- weren't looking. How else could she know it was "flawless?")

The watershed in The Woman in the Row Behind thus flashes through the theatre, floods the orchestra ... and then disappears, leaving behind the aroma of orchids and a few Chinese characters (and maybe even the scent of Chop Suey). All this makes me wonder if there wasn't another possible career choice --- even at this late point in life --- for a bellicose, post-menopausal reviewer.

Ms. Corner does have a few moments here and there. We get to watch one of Nina's friend's mothers die. And when she isn't doing the Chinese lady act in the theatre or working her way through the laundry in the apartment, Nina meets up with a politician who takes her away to his "red and gold room" where she brings him to a frenzy of arousal. Then, pause, she "threw him backward, straddled him, and ran the rough-edged belt from my raincoat around his neck. I tightened it sharply and watched him orgasm. Then we had a drink together."

With or without drinks, according to my ancient --- I'm talking 1986 --- Merriam-Webster, "orgasm" is a noun. It comes from the Sanskrit "urga" which sounds just like you-know-what but has less to do with an acte à comptè and more to do with the rising sap of a tree.

No matter how you cut it, even with a rain-coat belt, orgasm ain't no verb. Not in Sanskrit. Nor English. Nor, we would like to hope, Chinese.

--- Lolita Lark
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