The Death of the Author
Gilbert Adair, . . Melville, $13 (136pp) ISBN 978-1-933633-57-2
A French academic hiding his collaborationist past resurrects himself in America in this misfired novella. Professor of literature at the Yale-like New Harbor, Léopold Sfax, the novella's wily, boorish narrator, has become a celebrity in literary America for espousing his capital-T Theory that “words are far older and fickler and more experienced than the writers who... are 'using' them.” When eager grad student Astrid Hunneker embarks on writing his biography, Sfax nervously pads his backstory, omitting the embarrassing parts that took place during WWII, when as a young man living in occupied Paris he was asked to contribute to a collaborationist magazine. Yet Sfax returns obsessively to this period, revealing that he pseudonymously wrote scores of “Nazi hack work” articles and was denounced in a “traitor's gallery” published by the Resistance in 1943. Adair skillfully constructs his protagonist's elaborate, circuitous justifications, and even introduces a mystery, though too late to keep afloat a narrative weighted down by the narrator's unceasingly haughty academic rhetoric.
Reviewed on: 06/23/2008