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Friday, January 23, 2004:

'Foam of the Daze' got a great review from the Seattle Sinner. Their website, which is not up at this time - but it will in about a week is located at www.seattlesinner.com

December, 2003

Foam of the Daze
By Boris Vian
TamTam Books, $18
Review by: Jeremy M. Barker
In 1950's Paris Boris Vian was everything-novelist, playwright, provocateur and iconoclast, jazz musician and general man-about-town. He hobnobbed with the Existentialists (Jean-Paul Sartre stole his first wife), he wrote a novel, "I Spit on Your Graves," that was tried for obscenity in 1950 (the first in a century, since Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary"), and offended the spirit of the French Resistance during the German Occupation with his play, "The Knacker's ABC." In 1955, his anti-war, pro-desertion jazz ballad, "Le Déserteur," was banned from the radio. Born in 1920 in the suburbs outside of Paris, he was said to have been certain that he wouldn't live past 40; in June, 1959, he sneaked into a movie theater to watch the screen adaptation of "I Spit on Your Graves," having fallen out badly with the director. The film was awful, and within minutes, Vian stood up, exclaimed, "These are supposed to be Americans? My ass!" and dropped dead, laid low by a life-long heart ailment. He was 39. In the years since his death, his reputation has only grown in France and throughout many parts of the world, but sadly, his books have been out of print in the US for years (that is, the few that were ever translated). But recently, Tam Tam Books, a small publisher in LA which previously published "I Spit on Your Graves" has released a new translation of his 1946 novel and masterpiece, "Foam of the Daze." The story is pretty simple: there are two friends, Colin and Chick; Colin's rich, Chick's a poor engineer (Vian's own trade). Chick falls in love with a girl named Alise, who happens to be the niece of Colin's erudite cook and servant Nicolas. Colin, despairing of his loneliness, eventually meets Chloe, they fall in love and get married. He loans Chick money so Alise's parents will let them marry, but he blows it all buying books. Then Chloe gets ill and dies while Chick's obsession with books drives Alise to a murderous rage, leads to his death for not paying his taxes, and in the end everything's in ruins. Pretty simple. Then imagine it all taking place in a world that looks something like the set from "Austin Powers," with cute little mice à la "Cinderella" that, "loved dancing to the sound of the shock of the sunbeams on the faucets, and they ran after the little balls that the light formed upon pulverizing themselves upon the floor, like spurts of yellow mercury." Oh, and Chloe dies of a water lily growing in her lung, Chick's obsession is with a philosopher named "Jean-Sol Partre" whose books include "Vomit" and "The Letter and Neon," a treatise on neon signs (the last book title is a pun that only works in French-that is, "La lettre et le néon" sounds the same as "L'Être et le Néant," Sartre's masterpiece translated as "Being and Nothingness"). By turns charming (Colin builds a "pianocktail," a piano that mixes drinks when played), funny ("Colin noticed that the man did not have the head of a man, but of a pigeon, and did not understand why he was put to work at the skating rink rather than at the pool."), grotesque ("...under the bars flowed alcohol mixed with ether that washed along cotton balls dirtied with humors and sanies, sometimes blood; from time to time, long strings of half-coagulated blood could be seen tainting the volatile flow, and scraps of flesh, half-decomposed, passed by slowly...") and despairing ("...in front of him, attached to the wall, was Jesus on his cross, he seemed bored and Colin asked him: 'Why is Chloe dead?' 'I have no responsibility for that,' said Jesus. 'Why don't we talk about something else?'"), the novel is an under-appreciated masterpiece by one of the most electrifying figures in 20th century French literature. Simone de Beauvoir thought that Vian's rejection of religion in the scene where Colin addresses the crucifix was more devastating than Albert Camus' best, and the novel also attacks militarism and work, which, besides religion, were Vian's other rubs. Colin, driven to poverty by Chloe's medical bills, sells his body to the military where he uses his body heat to grow rifle barrels. The novel's mix of the surreal and the grotesque is delightfully readable and will be enjoyed by just about anyone. The novel's conclusion would be depressing, with Colin left destitute and desolate at the poor people's cemetery where beautiful Chloe's been buried, but the last chapter, which concerns the mouse, is so sad and funny to make the book's ending as affecting as Kurt Vonnegut's tragicomic classic, "Slaughterhouse 5." "Foam of the Daze" is an absolutely fantastic novel, and the "Slaughterhouse 5." "Foam of the Daze" is an absolutely fantastic novel, and the fact that it's been all but forgotten is a tragedy and a loss to American readers.

Jeremy M. Barker

Tosh // 9:25 PM

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