cover image In Concrete

In Concrete

Anne Garréta, trans. from the French by Emma Ramadan. Deep Vellum, $15.95 (152p) ISBN 978-1-64605-055-0

Oulipo member Garréta’s wonderfully strange latest (after Not One Day) chronicles the misfortunes that befall a family after the father receives a concrete mixer for his birthday. He wants to “muddernize” (modernize) their recently inherited rustic house, but he doesn’t know what he’s doing and a series of mishaps ensue: he’s temporarily blinded by a shovel full of dust and mice droppings, and various family members are zapped by the house’s faulty wiring. While pouring a concrete floor, they run into the “most serious mishap [they’d] ever had”: the narrator’s younger sister, Poulette, ends up slathered in wet concrete. They then lose power to the water pump and can’t clean her off, and the mix solidifies on her. At this point the narrative morphs into poetry, song, and bursts of wordplay. Hence becomes “hens” and exhume “eggzoom” as the siblings contend with Poulette’s new form. They find new games to play and weaponize their wordplay against a group of local bullies. A few other things happen, but as with most work by Oulipo writers, what’s important is what Garréta does with language, and Ramadan, winner of the PEN Translation Prize, makes each of the pages sing. Fans of experimental fiction will find this delightful. (Apr.)