cover image DESOLATION


Yasmina Reza, , trans. from the French by Carol Brown Janeway. . Knopf, $19 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-375-41087-1

A curmudgeonly retired Parisian is the narrator of this delightful first novel by playwright Reza, author of the Tony Award–winning Art. Bienvenue to Samuel's world, where too-cheerful Nancy, his second wife, "doesn't understand that a man who has no place to whine cannot be a normal man," and his disappointing 38-year-old son "crisscrosses the world on the 99 cents he gets from subletting the apartment I rent for him." Samuel's best friend, Lionel, "can't get it up anymore"; his marvelous mistress, the delectable Marisa (aka "my Babylon"), is now only a memory; Mrs. Dacimiento, his housekeeper, hasn't mastered the art of fitting the plastic garbage sack properly over the rim of the garbage can—"Sometimes I long to say, 'Have you never put a rubber on a guy?'" The winter of this Parisian's delightful discontent alternates brilliantly between dry humor and wry flashes of heartbreaking wisdom. Crafted with loving care and remarkable attention to voice, this short novel portrays an aging man desperately trying to make sense of life while talking out loud to himself, his son, his buddy Lionel and, finally, to an old friend and fellow gardener, Genevieve Abramowitz, whose response helps him to realize that desolation can be the prelude to one last stab at true communication. "The garden—all me," Samuel discovers, can lead to a late-in-life blossoming. "But the world is not outside us. The world lives within us." 5-city author tour. (Sept. 27)