cover image The Gift

The Gift

Florence Noiville, trans. from the French by Catherine Temerson. Northwestern Univ., $17.95 trade paper (100p) ISBN 978-0-8101-2676-3

In this "fictional memoir" by Noiville, a Le Monde literary critic and the author of 2003's Isaac B. Singer: A Life, a woman returns to her place of birth to take possession of "the gift"%E2%80%94her childhood home. As the family lawyer reads the details of her inheritance, the narrator remembers her early years, characterized by her beautiful Italian mother's mental illness, which forced her often to abandon her two daughters while she went away for treatment. Just as her mother received her diagnosis of manic depression, this choppy narrative reads like her daughter's diagnosis of her own childhood. And, like any diagnosis, it is maddeningly reductive; characters are left undeveloped, moments are cut short, the narrative has little depth as it unfolds in a series of mostly two- to three-paged chapters. The reader is left with the impression that the people who populate this book are not "real" human beings, but ghosts, through whom we can see all too easily. (June 26)