cover image The Mustache

The Mustache

Emmanuel Carrere. Collier Books, $7.95 (146pp) ISBN 978-0-02-018870-4

In the opening pages of this compelling first paperback original of the Collier Fiction series, the nameless narrator describes, in sensuous detail, his shaving off, at whim, of a 10-year-old mustache. His wife, Agnes, ignores his ""metamorphosis'' but, when confronted, maintains that he has always been clean-shaven. Is Agnes going crazy or is she trying to drive her husband insane for fiendish reasons? Or is the narrator a madman? The mustache, or lack thereof, is the banal fulcrum upon which the narrator's equilibrium balances: soon, his wife denies the existence of people he considers close friends and says that his beloved father is dead. In his American debut, Carrere keenly limns the collapse of the protagonist's world and the subversion of his sense of reality. As the narrator's mind careens like an unhinged roller coaster between lucidity and insanity, and he flees Paris for Hong Kong, he is both deeply affecting and unnerving in his panic and desperation. From the first flecks of shaving cream to the shattering denouement, this is a tense, piercing reminder that a fine and shifting line distinguishes fact from mirage, and soundness of mind from derangement. It is also a keen example of how readers are necessary captives of a narrator's perspective, however skewed or surreal. (April)