cover image Black Forest

Black Forest

Valérie Mréjen, trans. from the French by Katie Shireen Assef. Phoneme, $16 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-944700-90-4

Filmmaker Mréjen’s extraordinary English-language debut is a catalogue of mortality. Composed of fragments set primarily in and around Paris, nameless characters concisely meet their ends: a woman chokes to death on a sausage while laughing at a joke at a party; a speeding motorcyclist “lands, miraculously intact, in a green field of wheat” before dazedly stepping into a road and getting hit by a truck; a man suffers a stroke leaving his home, “keeled over on the landing when he was on his way out to fetch a loaf of bread or some other such thing.” Woven throughout is the story of a daughter who finds out her mother has overdosed on sleeping pills while she was getting her hair done, after which “she went to another hairdresser more suited to her style and age, and had her head completely shaved.” The daughter grows up, and readers see her imagining walking with her mother through Paris, remembering her childhood and the distance that grew between them, and experiencing enduring reminders of her mother years later. The book coalesces around the idea that in death “stories were somehow linked to those who’d told them,” and that, to the living, the dead “reappeared at arbitrary moments, according to their own capricious calendar.” Mréjen’s crystalline prose never grasps for sentimentality, and her meticulous, humane, and powerful volume unforgettably depicts the way the dead experience life after death in the traces they leave in the minds of the living. (Oct.)