This novel clearly takes some things that work in his other novels and expands on them. There’s also some drawing back to his short fiction as well. We begin with Fay Jones, running away, finding a house, breaking in, fixing her self lunch, and doing the dishes and leaving a dollar behind. From there, we follow her on the road where she’s picked up by three 20 somethings coming back from a fishing trip. One takes a liking to her and offers her beer and cigarettes (a motif) and they all go back a trailer. A timely vomiting rescues her from an attempted sexual assault. Later when she sees two of the men having a threesome with the woman who owns the trailer, we understand that Fay has a lot of precociousness projected onto her by the men who find her out, and that she’s as much the naive 17 year old we would have guessed. We also learn she’s left home because her father began to fall to temptation around her.
The pattern goes from here, where her need and vulnerability put her in the sights of both do-gooders (who maybe aren’t nearly as good as they seem) and ne’er do well (who still have an appeal). In the middle of course is Fay, who is willing and capable of doing what she needs to do to survive in a world not made for her.
This is a drunk and smoky book if there ever was one, but also one filled with sympathy and pity.
Whereabouts – 3/5
I would say that this is a strangely vexing novel. It would be more than fair to treat it as a novel written by an author, taken on its own accord, and to be read fundamentally as a text. But that feels weirdly dishonest about what this novel is. Instead, it’s a novel written by a writer of a decidedly worldly background (London-born, American-raised; child of immigrants to both the US and UK), but one written in their non-native language. But also, this novel is written in a language taken up seemingly as a hobby or as an interest. It’s hard not to think about other writers who have been published in multiple languages–Nabokov, Milan Kundera, Canetti–or authors who wrote primarily in languages they didn’t grow up speaking like Joseph Conrad, Khalid Hosseini, Edwidge Danticat, etc. And there’s a mixed bag of results. Nabokov’s English novels are incredibly polished and successful, and he absolutely dances in English. Conrad is Conrad. But Kundera’s French novels are decidedly limited and weak in comparison. So I think it’s impossible to ignore that this novel doesn’t have a “thing” going on with it and to treat it simply as a novel. That also goes along with how very different it is from Lahiri’s other works. The method here then is more like Murakami’s who discusses in the opening essay to Wind/Pinball that he would write in English, then translate back into Japanese in order to create his strange voice. For English readers, we’re getting the English translation of his process.
I think time will tell if she keeps writing in Italian what will happen. I don’t think very much about this novel will stick with me. It’s not bad or anything, but it’s as light as air.