A Life on Paper
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by Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud, Edward Gauvin
Category: Science Fiction/Mainstream
Description: The celebrated career of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud is well known to readers of French literature. This comprehensive collection--the first to be translated into English--introduces a distinct and dynamic voice to the Anglophone world. In many ways, Châteaureynaud is France's own Kurt Vonnegut, and his stories are as familiar as they are fantastic. A Life on Paper presents characters who struggle to communicate across the boundaries of the living and the dead, the past and the present, the real and the more-than-real. A young husband struggles with self-doubt and an ungainly set of angel wings in "Icarus Saved from the Skies," even as his wife encourages him to embrace his transformation. In the title story, a father's obsession with his daughter leads him to keep her life captured in 93,284 unchanging photographs. While Châteaureynaud's stories examine the diffidence and cruelty we are sometimes capable of, they also highlight the humanity in the strangest of us and our deep appreciation for the mysterious.
eBook Publisher: Small Beer Press, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: August 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [331 KB]
Reading time: 204-286 min.
"As weird as they are elegant, as delicious as they are unsettling, these fables place Châteaureynaud in the secret brotherhood that has only exemplars, no definition: Kafka, Bruno Schulz, Nathanael West, Aimee Bender. We are lucky indeed to have them, in a very skilled translation." --John Crowley (Little, Big) "Châteaureynaud's stories are disorienting, bizarre, mythical. The stories don't end with epiphanies or a tidy wrapping-up. Some of the endings are abrupt, even unsatisfying; they feel more like a beginning. So what? A Life on Paper is fantastic in both meanings: it's fantastic, as in strange, unreal, weird, imaginary; and it's fantastic, as in absolutely fucking awesome. People will call A Life on Paper magical realism. A few will call it irrealism. I don't care what you call it. I just want you to read it." --Bookslut "Both classic and modern, strange and simple, Châteaureynaud's stories remind not only of Vonnegut but of Gogol and Kafka. What's endearing about the stories is the amount of tenderness running through them. Even in stories about bizarre cruelty (the title story tells of a father who had his daughter photographed a dozen times a day for her entire life), affection provides the glue." --Time Out Chicago "A Life on Paper is a brief selection from more than thirty years of fiction. Châteaureynaud has a backlist for American readers that this book makes enticingly tangible, almost real. His own work is such that it might be subject of one of his stories. This might be all there is, the rest pure fabrication. The unreal, awaiting translation." --Rick Kleffel, The Agony Column "These 22 curious tales verging on the perverse will strike new English readers of Châteaureynaud's work as a wonderful find. Beautiful prose featuring ingenuous protagonists and clever, unexpected forays into horror are the hallmarks of these mischievous stories." --Publishers Weekly "Châteaureynaud's dance steps are so nimble that he seems, without effort, to show us what is best in others." --Brooklyn Rail
A Citizen Speaks
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As for the blight, we call it rust for its color. In reality, whether mold or oxide, its true nature eludes us. Does it not assail stone and slag alike? Both zinc and bronze? Even woodwork corrodes here. The leprosy spares only living things: a tree will spend ten years unscathed, slowly rising over a path, but let a branch be cut, treated, painted, and varnished--that branch will be disease-ridden in a few months. So unerring is it that old men's complexions often imitate its taint. That was how my father died: reddish, as though life had singed him. In his final days, I sometimes pressed on, in my walks, all the way to the park's far end, where we'd never before ventured. An ancient statue with a finger to its lips--a faun or genius loci--imposed silence on the crabgrass sprouting there. And this corner of nature seemed to obey. By some singular disposition of the place, the wind that blew all over the hill didn't blow there, and I never saw a bird land in that spot. Only my steps, crushing the grass beneath them, disturbed the silence. I drew closer to the faun. Perhaps his nudity explained why we'd been forbidden to play there. On his cheeks, chest, and thighs blossomed brown spatters of blight; hardly the least curious feature of this kind of decay is that it begins from within, making its way from the heart of a thing to its surface. One day, standing before the faun--my father was then at death's door, and I'd come one last time seeking the seclusion I was sure to find there--I had the idiotic but irrepressible urge to stab him with a long stick lying at his feet. My makeshift lance struck him right in the middle of one of the biggest russet spatters, roughly covering his heart had he been a creature of flesh. The rotten marble opened to the pointed stick as would a human breast, and I let go in fright. The lance quivered for a moment at the heart of the statue before falling to the ground. From the wound, with a stirring as of dust, red shavings drained away, a coarse powder of mingled rust and marble that I momentarily mistook for blood. I could not have been more terrified had the faun brought his hands to his chest. Yet still he stared at me with those same mocking eyes, a finger on his lips, as though asking me not to tell anyone about the marvel. My heart beating, I examined his wound more closely and saw that there was nothing left to him but a marble husk, the inside of the statue no longer solid but filled with that strange aggregate so like sand in an arena where blood from carnage had long since dried in the sun. Another shudder passed through me at the thought that my father was the same way, and I imagined his insides, his fragile flesh and organs scraping beneath his skin's reddish translucency. I went home. I was informed of his sudden death. But I was speaking of the city; if only rarely is it so severe, the damage caused by the rust nonetheless leaves unusual and vaguely catastrophic traces on everything within our walls. We who live here can on first glance pick out from among a hundred pictures of unnamed streets the only one from our town. This is because the secret germinations of our facades and rooftops always show through in some sign only we detect. Well before the spatters I've mentioned blossom in broad daylight, wood and stone tarnish, darken imperceptibly. It's as though the sun suddenly loathed bathing this sickly matter in its light. Although many buildings seem new thanks to coats of paint, no doubt remains that the entire city is wasted by this disease, as though by an acid it secretes itself, which will one distant day restore this spot to its initial desolation.
Paris, April 1974