Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere

I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere is the second Anna Gavalda book to reach American shores. Each of these twelve short pieces packs a sharp punch at the narrator's expense.

The stories concern lost chances for erotic love or missteps with disastrous outcomes. While the first theme offers some rueful amusement, as in "Courting Rituals of Saint-Germain-des-Prés," the misstep stories are the most breathtaking. In "Catgut," a female veterinarian struggles to establish herself in a chauvinistic farming village, only to be raped by locals. Her revenge will have every female reader clapping with glee (and many men too, I'm sure), but her carefully constructed life is over, and she knows it. "Pregnant" centers on woman who, happily with child, splurges on a beautiful maternity dress for a summer wedding several months hence. When the wedding date arrives she must still wear the dress, but no longer expects the child. The narrator of "For Years," abandoned by his lover, marries and has children whom he adores. Yet he remains guiltily fixated on his former lover. One day she telephones, informing him she is fatally ill. Might they rendezvous a final time? The ensuing meeting is a masterpiece of understated writing:

"We told each other the story of our lives. It was somewhat disjointed. We each kept our secrets. She had trouble finding the right words." (136)

Gavalda's writing is elegantly lean, all short, declarative sentences:

“He’s never slept with his secretaries. It’s vulgar, and these days could cost you some serious money.” (31)

"You never know what's going to happen--how things are going to unfold, or when the simplest things are going to take on demented proportions." (145)

"His name is Alexander Devermont. He's a young man, all pink and blond." (101)

Throughout one is reminded that life is short and all too often ruined by missed opportunity. In both "Leave" and "Clic-Clac," men fantasize about women they love only to refuse their real-life advances. "This Man and This Woman" are a long-married, wealthy, loveless couple riding silently to their perfectly restored country home. The ride, alternating between his rage and her loneliness, is a long one. In “Lead Story,” a rash driving decision causes a catastrophic accident, one the perpetrator learns of only later, watching television in the safety of his apartment. The final story, "Epilogue," offers some levity in the form of a writer's visit to a publisher. The narrator, nicknamed Marguerite Duras by her husband, mails her manuscript to a publisher. When he telephones for an appointment, it is only to inform her that she shows promise. Her ensuing paralysis--she literally cannot move from her chair--will leave all would-be authors squirming.

Interestingly, Gavalda's books have been translated by three different women--Catherine Evans, (Someone I Loved), Karen L. Marker, (I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere), and Alison Anderson (Hunting and Gathering). All are able translators, allowing Gavalda's spare style to shine through the thicket of English. Word choices are wonderfully apt: charming, "Madame" instead of Ms., "brilliant," instead of "great." There is no sense of limping through missed meanings or botched glosses than can make works in translation so frustrating. Gavalda is another fine European writer deserving a wider American audience.

Anna Gavalda: I Wish Someone Were Waiting for me Somewhere. Karen L. Marker, Translator. New York: Riverhead Books, 1999.

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