Sleep of Memory
By Patrick Modiano, translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti. (Yale University Press, 136 pages, $24.)
In French, the term "modianesque" refers to all-things somber and mysterious. Francois Hollande — despite his country's notoriously conservative stance on the evolution of the French language — coined the term in honor of author Patrick Modiano's highly celebrated body of work.
Last year, Modiano made the first addition to his oeuvre since winning the Nobel Prize in literature in 2014. "Sleep of Memory," translated by Mark Polizzotti, is a continuation of Modiano's study on the "art of memory."
The laconic (fewer than 150 pages) semi-autobiographical story is shaped by a retrospective narrator's dreamlike memories of five women, whose lives intertwine with the semblance of 22-year-old Modiano, amid the lingering tension of collaboration in postwar Paris. It is an investigation into the enduring impact of "encounters so brief they could've easily fallen into oblivion."
Though foreign in every sense of the word, "Sleep of Memory" beautifully captures the universally ambiguous sensation of recalling a distant memory. This account is for anyone who wonders "whether they belonged to reality or the realm of dreams."
What Luck, This Life By Kathryn Schwille. (Hub City Press, 216 pages, $24.95.)
The residents of Kiser, Texas, already had trouble before the Columbia space shuttle broke apart over their town in 2003. For some, disaster made things just that much tougher.
Kathryn Schwille's richly descriptive debut novel weaves local drama into a national trauma to illustrate how regular people's lives play out beyond the headlines. The action moves forward and backward in time, with characters literally picking up the pieces of the disaster or reflecting back on it later. The interlocking stories touch on issues of race, religion, domestic violence and family relationships.
That's a lot to take on in a few hundred pages. The publisher likens this work to Sherwood Anderson's 1919 breakthrough short story cycle, "Winesburg, Ohio." There is a resemblance, but the stories here construct a less coherent picture, with action and characters spread out much like the shuttle's debris field. There's a lot to like in this novel, but the structure can distract from Schwille's beautiful language.