Black Forest

Deep Vellum. Nov. 2019. 80p. ISBN 9781944700904. $16; . f ;.
This English-language debut from French writer/filmmaker Mréjen opens with a nameless suicide: a man “decides he’s old enough” and replaces the disco ball with rope. The story, however, begins with a divorced father who determines that his children are lacking suitable New Year’s Eve party attire and stops by his ex-wife’s apartment for proper clothing. Upon arrival, two of the siblings discover their mother’s corpse in bed. The older daughter, who was at the hairdresser with the stepmother, must hear the tragic news separately. In the decades that follow, this daughter will reach, then surpass, her mother’s age at her death (38). Those moments of the daughter’s life—memories, observances, regrets, especially her impossible “what-if” daydreams with a mother-still-living—provide the skeletal narrative, interrupted by seemingly unrelated instances of additional deaths. For those who survive, death remains an ever-present, relentlessly recurring part of...well, life. In language that’s laconic and concise, Mréjen writes affectingly without emotional entanglement—“her aim is not to eulogize but to describe, to enumerate, to record,” writes Assef (making her full-length translation debut) in her elucidating ending commentary.
VERDICT While the novel is “certainly not for members of the cult of the carefree,” as Assef wryly notes, internationally-savvy seekers will undoubtedly be intrigued.
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