cover image Mammals


Pierre Merot, , trans. from the French by Frank Wynne. . Grove/Atlantic/Black Cat, $13 (198pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-7019-4

Mérot, in his first English translation, is romantic and dark, with a weakness for the well-turned paradox ("Psychoanalysis teaches you one vital lesson: it teaches you that seeing a psychoanalyst is pointless...") and the surrealistic metaphor (coming into Poland in the winter, the protagonist sees "snow with white vodka claws"). Mérot's novel centers on an overeducated, underemployed 40-something man known as "the uncle," for his role as the black sheep of a model family. The story line strings together the uncle's life in episodes involving alcoholism (eight pints per evening and counting), marriage (unsuccessful), cohabitation (with a woman reminiscent of his childhood fantasy, Cruella de Ville), odd jobs (in various contemptable venues, including "Walt Disney College"), and the sadness of ending up at 40 with a small apartment and a large belly. While the protagonist is a man, Mérot's novel invokes the most bitter of chick lit, capturing the pessimism characteristic of the unlucky-in-love working-gal heroine: "The more mediocre the times, the greater the disappointment." Though it takes some missteps, Mérot's American debut should please casual fiction readers and Francophiles alike. (May)