Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano

51e6zgvzpkl._sx320_bo1204203200_Fiction – print. Translated from the French by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis. Peirene Press, 2019. 128 pgs.

The short stories included in this collection are connected through its shared characters, the shared setting of rural France, and the shared themes of dispossession, hitchhiking, and suicide. Some of these shared connections are stronger than others; there was, for example, little about the setting that stood out as distinctly French to me. If I had not read about the setting in the publisher’s brief introduction, I could have mentally placed the stories in any rural locality.

The connection between the characters in these thirteen stories waxed and waned throughout the collection. Each story is told from the first-person point of view, meaning the secondary characters often take on new dimensions through changes in their relationship with the narrator from one story to the next. Without names or defining characteristics, I often had to guess if a seemingly new character was one previously introduced to me. Rarely did Pagano come right out and state that a character had previously appeared.

The translators write in their afterword that they worked with Pagano to select stories from her original French language collection, Un renard à mains nues, in order to meet Periene’s 200 pages max limitation. (The original is nearly 350 pages long.) Higgins and Lewis wrote they “privileged those that add up to fuller stories in themselves and point to fuller relationships between the characters”, a statement that surprised me as I felt the shared themes rather than character connections were strongest.

The darkness of these themes, though, made it difficult to follow through on Peirene Press’ mission to “only publish books of less than 200 pages that can be read in the same time it takes to watch a film”. I quickly found that I had no desire to read this book in one sitting, given how bleak and macabre and traumatic the stories felt with their underlying focus on suicide.

Other than a singular story about a wedding crasher, the collection lacked the buoyancy that even dark movies have to offer their viewers. Unfortunately, setting the book aside for periods of time (even if it was still within a single day) probably hindered my ability to identify and appreciate the character and incident connections.

Please note that Pagano’s collection will be officially published on October 22, 2019. (I received a copy last month for early preview, a perk offered to subscribers to Peirene Press.)

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