cover image Cursed Bread

Cursed Bread

Sophie Mackintosh. Doubleday, $28 (208p) ISBN 978-0-385-54830-4

In the intense but muddled latest from Mackintosh (Cursed Bread), a pent-up woman falls for a set of newcomers to her remote French village a few years after WWII. The narrator, 30-something Elodie, anachronistically calls herself “matron-adjacent” compared to the younger sexed-up Violet, who arrives with her unnamed husband. Elodie’s husband, a baker, won’t have sex with her, and her longing is heightened after a party when she overhears Violet’s husband tell her “I know you want to fuck him” (about Elodie’s husband), and “If you eat the bread, you’ll die.” The idea of another woman wanting Elodie’s husband excites her, as does the virility of Violet’s own husband, and before it’s all over, Elodie comes close to sleeping with both. Along the way, she exchanges gossip with neighbors, and flash-forwards anticipate a wave of madness and deaths in the town. An author’s note alludes to inspiration from a mass poisoning in 1951 Pont-Sant-Esprit, but Mackintosh’s account remains gauzy; though the cause of the deaths is revealed at the end, big questions remain, including whether Violet and her husband are figments of Elodie’s imagination. Though evocative at first, the riffs on desire grow repetitive and fail to illuminate the material. This is a misfire. (Apr.)