Laurent Graff, , trans. from the French by Linda Coverdale. . Carroll & Graf, $11 (99pp) ISBN 978-0-7867-1282-3
"I wanted to let myself drift gently on the surface of life, floating on my back until I wound up flat on my back six feet under." So reveals the narrator of this curious, rather cold little novella, a winner of the Prix Millepages and Graff's first book to be published in English. At 35, in perfect health, Antoine decides to spend the rest of his life at the Happy Days retirement home. Although he admits to having little taste for life and a certain "tendency to get a head start on the inevitable" (at 18, he bought his cemetery plot), Antoine's premature forfeiture of normal existence is a philosophical experiment, an "attempt to understand what an individual's life is, stripped of all its diversions, seen in the light of its denouement." When Mireille, a new resident with terminal cancer, arrives to spend her final days, Antoine—who has heretofore shuffled along, attending physical therapy, participating in group outings, befriending eccentric aging residents and occasionally sleeping with nurses—has his chance "to understand the extinction of life." Mireille accepts his attentions calmly, as long as he grants her final wish to visit the seashore. The two sneak away, and their journey sparks a mix of tenderness and frustration in both. Graff's static and articulate but inexplicable hero will inspire primarily the latter emotion in readers, with flashes of the former; moments of gorgeous prose leaven a sharp, dark and very French quasi-comedy about a man whose life revolves around death.
Reviewed on: 12/15/2003