cover image And Their Children After Them

And Their Children After Them

Nichols Mathieu, trans. from the French by William Rodarmor. Other, $17.99 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-892746-77-1

Mathieu’s stunning, bittersweet Prix Goncourt–winning English debut follows a teen boy through four summers in a dreary valley in eastern France. In 1992, 14-year-old Anthony schemes with his friends to ogle sunbathers at a “bare-ass” lakeside beach while echoing their parents’ racism in response to a neighboring boy’s recent drowning (“Everyone naturally figured the Arabs had done the deed, so people kind of hoped for a settling of scores”). Anthony’s solitary yearning emerges in staccato lines (“At night, wearing headphones, he sometimes wrote songs. His parents were jerks”), and his restlessness is reflected in Mathieu’s shaggy, aimless story. Anthony’s and his friends’ repeated adolescent male behavior—hanging out on the beach, drinking, trying to hook up with girls—is depicted in beautifully observed detail, while Mathieu’s unblinking descriptions of Anthony’s parents, Hélène and Patrick, a fading beauty and a hard-drinking racist beaten down by their dead-end blue-collar jobs, give the novel greater impact. Anthony’s provincial story is bookended by moments—the release of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and France’s World Cup victory—that stir him, but don’t change his life, and he has little to look forward to beyond the poverty and bleak outlook of his parents and friends as he enters adulthood. Mathieu’s subtle craft will enrapture readers and appeal to fans of Édouard Louis. (Apr.)