So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood

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Have you ever lost some of your “Contacts” as you tried to transfer them from one iPhone to another, as I did?  Would your back-up be the Cloud or an old address book buried in a desk drawer?  In Patrick Modiano’s So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood, the lost and found address book becomes the premise for a threatening mystery involving possible murder, blackmail, and a lost past.

Although the story is short, it requires attention to follow the trail, and to decipher the real focus.  The two sinister characters who find the address book and demand information on a name in the book are only vehicles to Daragne’s uncovering a dark childhood secret, but this is not immediately apparent.  The characters fade and disappear as Daragne’s detective-like hunt for clues to incidents evading his memory reappear.

In the first lines of the novel, the real premise is set – a small catalyst (losing an address book) may trigger the path to repressed memories.

“Almost nothing. Like an insect bite that initially strikes you as very slight. At least that is what you tell yourself in a low voice so as to reassure yourself.”

Daragne is telling the story as an older man, a respected and popular novelist – like the author.  As he begins to remember important names and places, he questions his own memory.  How often does memory trick us into a different version than what actually happened?  The story picks up pace, and the evidence pointing to a childhood trauma finally emerges.  The end comes abruptly, with more questions than answers.

Maybe because the novel is translated from the French and is set in Paris, the language has a smoldering aura mixed with the flavor of a film noir.  I  could envision the main character, Jean Daragane, sitting quietly, sipping coffee in an outdoor cafe, as he remembers people and places threatening to upend his life.

Kaiama Glover’s article in the New York Times Book Review section drew me to this small book (155 pages) – a novel promising to reveal the revered author, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature. In his summary of the book, Glover notes:

“{the book is} rife with explicit allusions to the real life of Patrick Modiano, as told in his memoir a decade earlier, the narrative {chronicling} the efforts of an isolated and aging novelist to confront an elusive past.”

Although Modiano has a loyal following for his mysteries in France, and has written over thirty books, this author was new to me. So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood is a compelling read – despite the red herrings and McGuffins in the mystery.  Modiano does not follow the formula for mystery – he breaks it – and creates a suspenseful and thoughtful dilemma. Deciphering the possibilities would make for a great book discussion.

 

Nine Inches – short stories

9781250034700_p0_v2_s260x420Short stories are on my radar – with Alice Munro winning the Nobel for her short stories and Sarah Hall’s story winning the BBC short story award for her tale of a woman turning into a fox ( a story I have yet to find anywhere in print but the BBC reading was enticing).  Tom Perrotta’s Nine Inches on my Kindle was a funny, irreverent collection that had me laughing, crying, musing, and reflecting on my own experiences.  With the same quirky perspective he gave to people in crisis in The Leftovers, Perrotta changes ordinary events into devastating moments.

Each of the ten short stories focuses on a dreary middle-class suburbanite facing inner turmoil for an irretrievable life mistake, and emerging changed through events that could happen anywhere to anyone.  The only problem – each story has a depressing, nevertheless realistic, ending.  After reading the first six, I stopped.

The title refers to middle school teachers using a piece of nine-inch tape to measure and enforce safe space between students who are slow dancing, with the focus on one teacher who reminisces on his lost chances.  “Senior Season” targets a football player who suffers a head injury that keeps him from playing; “Grade My Teacher” focuses on a teacher obsessed with her online evaluations and ranking; “Kiddie Pool” has a man discovering his wife’s infidelity when he sneaks into his dead neighbor’s garage to use his pump to inflate a pool for his grandchildren; “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face” – the most enjoyable of the lot – targets the rivalry between coaches of a Little League game with a talented young girl as the pitcher.

Good stories…well written…maybe I’ll go back to read the rest later.