Heavy on action and dark humor — fluidly rendered in West’s translation from the original Spanish — “Like Flies From Afar” is for those who like their noir fast, short and nasty. Ferrari, the author of several previous novels, works as a janitor in a Buenos Aires subway station, a job he obtained after he and his wife were deported from the United States in the 1990s. His disabused perspective peeks through the details: Machi tosses his college-age daughter’s book out the window; it’s “The Order of Things,” by Michel Foucault, the French philosopher who, unbeknown to Machi, is against everything he stands for. The novel’s title is drawn from Borges, whom Machi despises. And there are epigraphs from Marx and Jim Thompson, America’s homegrown noir genius, who specialized in characters caught in hells of their own making, even when, like Machi, they think they’re living in a capitalist paradise.
A LONG WAY OFF
By Pascal Garnier
Translated by Emily Boyce
124 pp. Gallic Books. Paper, $14.95.
In this taut, unsettling tale, Marc, a reasonably content married man, goes to visit his mentally disabled daughter, Anne, and, on impulse, takes her and his fat lazy cat on a “journey into the abyss” — or, rather, to Agen, a town known mainly for its prunes. Disturbing events ensue: The cat is stuffed in a pillowcase; the young African man whom Marc hires to sleep with Anne goes missing; Marc cuts his finger on an African fetish and it becomes infected. Marc realizes they’ve made a wrong turn, but feels it’s too late, “like a trapeze artist bouncing into the net after a failed trick, caught in a spider’s web he could no longer escape from.”
Garnier, the author of more than 60 books, died in 2010. His psychological thrillers are in the tradition of Georges Simenon’s romans durs, and Boyce’s lucid translation of this, his final book, feels true to that bleakly lyric vision, though one wonders about the “children’s books” listed in his oeuvre.
If you imagine a road trip through France as a beautiful idyll, this is not the guidebook you want: a landscape of bad cafes, lonely hotels, awful pizza, demolished homes and derelict factories, peopled by the hitchhikers, desperate immigrants and homeless vagrants. But with Anne’s blond Afro and multicolored clothes, Marc’s gangrenous finger and the increasingly bizarre conversations they have in their camper, a vein of wild humor runs through the gray. More absurdist than existentialist, this is a book in which a character can reasonably reflect: “Sooner or later, a Zoltan always makes his way into your life, just when you’ve made up your mind to have your finger amputated by your daughter.”