cover image Gentleman Callers

Gentleman Callers

Corinne Hoex, trans. from the French by Caitlin O’Neil. Dalkey Archive, $14.95

The playful and surreal English-language debut collection from Belgian writer Hoex comprises a woman’s dreamlike erotic encounters. In “The Swimming Instructor,” a pool full of jealous octopuses look on while the woman, who narrates each of the vignettes, makes out with her Lycra-clad teacher. In “The Gas Station Attendant,” the narrator has a dream that the man who washes her car is next to her in the passenger seat, “sheltered under the thick white foam” of his sponge. In “The Baker 1,” she turns into a housefly after eating too much of a baker’s “very special cake,” then playfully buzzes around the room to evade him. The stories often conclude with a metaphor of erotic satisfaction (“The Cook,” in which the narrator dreams she is a roast braising in Côtes du Rhone, ends, “he lets the chilled tip of his knife sink in”). The formula can start to feel repetitive, but Hoex breaks it enough times to keep things interesting, such as in “The Sculptor,” which culminates with a clever dousing of cold water (“But what is he doing now? What has he chiseled there between my legs? Oh god! No! A fig leaf?!”). Men don’t always satisfy the narrator, but the idea of them keeps renewing her desire. This carries the reader along with its abundant surprises. (Feb.)