cover image Sa Femme: 0or, the Other Woman

Sa Femme: 0or, the Other Woman

Emmanuele Bernheim, Carolyn Strom. Viking Books, $14.95 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-670-85811-8

This enigmatic novella coolly observes a single woman, Claire, whose lover, Thomas, claims to have a wife and two children. Each day after work, Thomas comes to Claire's apartment. He usually stays precisely an hour-and-a-quarter, and Claire feels the relationship has progressed when he allots her 15 extra minutes. Claire is no kept woman. She's a 30-year-old doctor with a private practice, but Thomas rules her behavior nonetheless. She's ``careful not to accept any dinner invitations before 9 o'clock'' so as not to interrupt their assignations; she doesn't wear perfume for fear his wife will smell it on his skin. And she collects souvenirs that validate their secret romance--sugar cubes from a cafe where they had coffee; condom wrappers from every rendezvous; even answering-machine tapes of his voice. Bernheim works in deadpan, objective statements. If her narrative is meted out in bitter sips (``Claire went to bed. Thomas wouldn't leave his wife. She went to sleep''), then each brief chapter is as bracing as a shot of espresso. Thomas remains two-dimensional, understood only as the source of Claire's preoccupation, and Claire's motivations and needs are equally mysterious. Only the vague conclusion, in which Claire fixates on a male patient, suggests that she knows more about obsession than she lets on. Suffice to say, it's all very French. (June)