Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Showcase - All Happy Families by Hervé Le Tellier translated from the French by Adriana Hunter

Today I have another winner from one of my favorite Indie Publishers, Other Press, they have some fantastic offerings like this one a memoir by acclaimed French author Hervé Le Tellier translated by Adriana Hunter, All Happy Families.

ISBN-13: 978-1590519370
Publisher: Other Press
Release Date: 3-26-2019
Length: 192pp
Buy It: Amazon/B&N/IndieBound



A prominent French writer delves into his own history in this eloquent reflection on dysfunctional family relationships.
Hervé Le Tellier did not consider himself to have been an unhappy child—he was not deprived, or beaten, or abused. And yet he understood from a young age that something was wrong, and longed to leave. Children sometimes have only the option of escaping, driven by their even greater love of life.

Having reached a certain emotional distance at sixty years old, and with his father and stepfather dead and his mother suffering from late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, Le Tellier finally felt able to write the story of his family. Abandoned early by his father and raised in part by his grandparents, he was profoundly affected by his relationship with his mother, a troubled woman with damaging views on love.

In this perceptive, deeply personal account, Le Tellier attempts to look back on trying times without anger or regret, and sometimes even with humor

Read an excerpt:


Listen to your father, who gave you life,
and do not despise your mother when she is old.
PROVERB S 2 3: 2 2
So, apparently it’s scandalous not to love your parents. Scandalous to wonder whether you should be ashamed because—despite your youthful efforts— you failed to find in your heart such a commonplace feeling as filial love.
            A child’s indifference is forbidden. Children are forever imprisoned by the love they spontaneously feel for their parents, whether the latter are good or cruel, intelligent or stupid, in a word, lovable or not. Behaviorists call these widely acknowledged, indisputable manifestations of affection “imprinting.” An absence of filial love not only is an insult to decency, but also stabs in the back the edifice of cognitive sciences.
            I was twelve years old. It must have been eleven o’clock in the evening and I was not yet asleep, because it was one of those very rare nights when my parents had gone out to dinner. Left alone, I was meant to be reading, probably Isaac Asimov, or Fredric Brown, or Clifford D. Simak.
The telephone rang. My first thought was: it’s the police, there’s been a car crash, my parents are dead. I say “my parents” to simplify (you should always simplify), because I actually mean my mother and stepfather.
            It wasn’t the police. It was my mother. They were running late; she wanted to reassure me.
I hung up.
It occurred to me that I hadn’t been worried. I’d imagined their demise with no feelings of panic or sadness. I was amazed to have so quickly accepted my status as an orphan, and appalled by the twinge of disappointment when I recognized my mother’s voice.
That’s when I knew I was a monster.

I was informed that Serge had died one sunny afternoon. Serge was my father, my actual father. I was being driven to the Manosque literary festival. I remember that, as well as the driver, the car contained at least the poet Jean-Pierre Verheggen and the writer Jean-Claude Pirotte.
My cell phone rang; I didn’t recognize the number and picked up. It was my sister. I say “my sister” when she is in fact my half sister, even though I’ve never been definitively conscious of having a half sister. She is seven or eight years younger than I am, the fact that my stepfather has adopted me means we don’t have the same family name, and we must have met half a dozen times in our lives. Still, I did at some stage realize that she had burdened me with the heroic, mythologized mantle of the faraway big brother, an imaginary ceremonial garment that made me her brother while nothing succeeded in making her my sister. But I’d decided against pointing out this deceptive and elementary psychological truth to her. It was several years since we’d last spoken.
“Our father is dead,” she said.
I watched the Provençal landscape spool past along the freeway, and found nothing to say in reply.
She and I both experienced a form of paternal absence, because I had never really known him, while she had left our father’s house when she was fifteen to move in with her mother, and had rarely seen him since. In fact, this missing “father” compartment in both our lives was the only concrete subject of our very sporadic conversations. The difference between us was that I’d ended up resigned to his absence but she, who had spent her childhood with him, had never managed to come to terms with it and it pained her. On this particular morning, what she had actually lost was our absence of a father.
“Our father’s dead,” she said again.
“Really? When did he die?”
I was aware of silence settling over the car. That’s often the effect you get with the word “die.”
She told me briefly that he had been taken to the hospital for breathing difficulties, that his condition had deteriorated and he had died of an embolism in the night.
I made inquiries about practical details, the date and place of the funeral. I thought of offering her my condolences, but that seemed rather indelicate. I feigned sadness for another good minute, then hung up. Jean-Pierre Verheggen was watching me with some concern.
To reassure him, I said, “It’s nothing. My father’s dead.”
Jean-Pierre laughed and that’s when I knew I was a monster.

I was informed that my stepfather had died when I was called by Bichat Hospital while I was at the PEN Festival in New York. I’d set off for the United States when he’d already been in intensive care for a week. Still, his condition was not deemed to be life-threatening, and it didn’t strike me as vital to stay in Paris to visit a man in an induced coma and pretend to support my mother. I called once a day and grasped that Guy’s condition was deteriorating, with an endless round of alternating antibiotics and anti-inflammatories proving ineffectual and ultimately lethal. I was happier not being there. It would have been even more ignominious simulating affection than revealing my indifference to medical staff who have seen it all and can’t be fooled.
I never liked my stepfather, and I can’t believe that this absence of affection was not reciprocated. There was, as they say, no connection.
I was eighteen months old when he married my mother. The job of father was very much vacant, but he was in no hurry to snap it up, and anyway, I wasn’t especially disposed to his taking it. In the end, the position was never filled. Some people will draw conclusions from reading the study by Pedersen et al. (1979) about a father’s determining influence on a male child’s cognitive development. For anyone else, let’s say the father figure chose another route.
Guy and I never saw eye to eye. I have no recollections of tenderness, or empathy, and I can’t have been much older than the age of reason when I decreed that he was a moron—a premature verdict, granted, but one that was not later invalidated.
I remember once unleashing a personal opinion at home. It must have been inadvertent because it wasn’t something I did frequently, given that I was never satisfied by the debates prompted when I expressed my ideas. On this particular occasion, I was eleven; it was during the upheavals of May ’68 and I’d made what—I admit—was a sweeping pronouncement, calling de Gaulle’s minister for interior affairs, Michel Debré, a “dumbass.” My stepfather retorted that “if he was such a dumbass he wouldn’t be where he is.” I immediately identified this statement as servile stupidity, although the formula that spontaneously came to mind was, “This guy’s such a dumbass,” which proves that the word “dumbass” came to me readily. I chose not to waste my time on an unproductive conflict, a decision that, on the threshold of adolescence (a phase well suited to so-called character- building confrontations), is proof in equal measures of wisdom and a superiority complex.
My stepfather respected every form of authority—be it hierarchical, police, or medical—and it so happens he also obeyed my mother. Weak with the strong, he was quite naturally strong with the weak. He was a teacher and enjoyed humiliating his pupils, taunting one in front of the others. That was his teaching method.
Born in late 1931, Guy was twelve when Paris was liberated at the end of World War II, twenty-five when events in Algeria stepped up a notch. A lucky generation but also a misbegotten one, their teenage years shoehorned between the Occupation and the Algerian War of Independence. He was born too late to collaborate with the Nazis, too soon to torture North Africans. There’s nothing to prove he would have done either. Even performing despicable acts takes a bit of moral fiber. He probably wouldn’t have had it in him to refuse climbing up into a watchtower.
My mother and Guy were that rare thing: a loveless codependent couple. She was never without him, he was never without her, they were never together.
Guy’s death didn’t bother her either way, except that it heralded true solitude on a day-to-day basis, and she could not yet envisage this for herself. On the other hand, it was crucial that she shouldn’t be suspected of this indifference. Keeping up appearances was a social activity that had always strenuously mobilized her energy. Which is why my mother had gone to the hospital every day, because this—as she kept telling herself—was what duty required. She would take a sudoku and sit beside her deeply comatose husband, but boredom would settle in all too soon. She would resist it for a while, then couldn’t help herself asking a nurse or a doctor for some excuse to justify her imminent departure. “I’ll have to go home,” she would say. “There’s no point in my staying here, is there?” Bolstered by some such dispensation, she was then quick to flee.
So I heard that Guy had died when I was in New York. I handled administrative questions long-distance. Then I went home. For the funeral.
That’s when I discovered that my mother was crazy.
Let’s be clear on this.
I always knew my mother was crazy but I won’t be discussing that here.
She had lost touch with reality long ago, but her husband managed everyday issues in such an orderly way that he had succeeded in disguising the evidence. After his death, my mother’s madness descended into burlesque.
The morgue was almost deserted. There were five of us, maybe six.
The servants of death otherwise known as funeral parlor staff have a vocabulary all their own. My mother had hers too, a rather more immediate one. There was no common ground.
When the body had been laid out and nestled in the coffin’s silk lining, one of the men in black came through to the waiting room and asked my mother gently, “Madame, would you like to view the deceased?”
View him?” my mother asked indignantly. “He’s not some house I’m thinking of buying, he’s my husband!”
The man must have heard it all before, and he went on with his detailed protocol. He wanted to know whether we would like the coffin to stay slightly open so that, in keeping with a rather morbid tradition, family and friends could catch one last glimpse of the loved one. But this was how he put it:
“Would you like us to do an exhibition?”
“An exhibition of what?” my mother asked anxiously. Then she added (and the rationality of it reassured her), “He had a lot of neckties.”
The undertaker looked at her, perplexed.
Eventually the time came to screw down the lid. There was no one there anyway.
“We’re closing, madame.”
My mother glanced at her watch.
“Do you close for lunch?” she asked fretfully.
I laughed. And that’s when I realized I was a monster.

Excerpted from All Happy Families by Hervé Le Tellier, published by Other Press on 26 March 2019. Copyright © Hervé Le Tellier. Reprinted by permission of Other Press.


PRAISE FOR Hervé Le Tellier (Enough about Love):

“…Absorbing and witty, and the more impressive for its formal constraints.”

“What could be more romantic than falling in love in Paris? Unless you are already married, in which case it’s a little more complicated, as in Hervé Le Tellier’s Enough About Love… Le Tellier writes about middle-aged desire and its consequences with empathy and humor.”

“It is a complicated novel, artfully told and translated and eerily familiar, the way love stories so often are.”

“At least as intriguing as how the French make their bread taste so good is how they manage all those extramarital love affairs they’re said to have.”

More PRAISE FOR Hervé Le Tellier (Electrico W):

“Romantic and atmospheric, this novel also benefits from a particularly fine sense of place and time…Dealing with so many characters…makes it lively and fleet. An epilogue describes the characters’ futures so neatly and completely that the reader may want to skip it. But skipping anything else in this witty, sad, and interesting novel would be a shame.” —PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY

“…an engaging spapshot of these [characters’] briefly intersecting lives.” —NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

“Delicate handling of deep themes—loss, missed connections, meaninglessness—gives the novel an emotional charge greater than its low-key particulars and pacing.” —KIRKUS

“…it is humorous and reads effortlessly.” —BOOKLIST

About the author:
Hervé Le Tellier is a writer, journalist, mathematician, food critic, and teacher. He has been a member of the Oulipo group since 1992 and one of the “papous” of the famous France Culture radio show. He has published fifteen books of stories, essays, and novels, including Enough About Love (Other Press, 2011), The Sextine Chapel (Dalkey Archive Press, 2011), and A Thousand Pearls (Dalkey Archive Press, 2011).

About the translator:
Adriana Hunter is a British translator of French literature. She is known for translating over 60 French novels, such as Fear and Trembling by Amélie Nothomb or The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa. She has been short-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize twice.