cover image Class Trip

Class Trip

Emmanuel Carrere. Metropolitan Books, $19.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-4694-6

If Sartre had written an episode of the Twilight Zone, it might have been Carrere's much-lauded The Mustache, in which a man who shaves off his signature facial hair finds that his very identity is eradicated. Carrere's latest, winner of France's Prix Femina, lacks the self-conscious existentialism of that novel or the literary gamesmanship of his Gothic Romance, making it more accessible to most readers. Here, the mood is similar-eerie and indeterminate-but the grotesques are human, not imaginary. For little Nicolas, a two-week ski trip with his class is filled with unknown terrors. He is smaller than his classmates, occasionally wets his bed and hasn't really made friends since his family moved a year and a half ago from the town where he'd spent his first years. To make matters worse, his father, upset by a recent tragic bus crash, insists on driving Nicolas to the school-only to leave with Nicolas's suitcase still in the trunk. Nicolas is an imaginative child whose morbid fantasies are fueled by his father's job (as a traveling prosthetics salesman), by stories his father has told about children being kidnapped by organ thieves and by the disappearance of a child from a nearby town. Each of Nicolas's reveries starts with some terrible event-his father's death, the attack of the organ thieves-followed by a comforting redemption in which he is drawn into the circle of adults and children. Something terrible has in fact happened, but it transcends Nicolas's childish imagination and will exclude him forever from the sympathetic embrace of human society. Carrere builds his horror subtly, implying a scene, a mindset, an event. While few of his details are explicit, none are extraneous. Foreign rights sold in 14 countries. (Jan.)