cover image The Woman with the Bouquet

The Woman with the Bouquet

Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, trans. from the French by Alison Anderson, Europa (Penguin, dist.), $15 paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-933372-81-5

Schmitt's mostly pleasant collection of five stories (after The Most Beautiful Book in the World) observes uncommon relationships, from the intense to the fleeting, beginning with "The Dreamer from Ostend," in which the narrator, recovering from a breakup, lodges with the aging, wheelchair-bound Emma Van A. At first, the narrator believes Emma is trapped in her book-filled home and has lived a largely vicarious life—until Emma reveals an amazing, if possibly untrue, secret. In "Getting Better," Stéphanie, a young Parisian nurse, is captivated by a middle-aged patient after he pays her an unexpected compliment. The narrator of the title story notices an elderly woman who comes to the Zurich train station every day clutching a bouquet of flowers, as if waiting for someone. After speculating with his co-workers over her situation, Eric realizes they are imposing their own life stories onto the woman. Each of these stories hinges on human connection and does the required work of illuminating their protagonist's lives, though the uniformity in aesthetic—quiet, deliberate, mannered—sometimes feels uninspired. (Sept.)