I had never heard of Marcel Ayme (1902-1967), a French author best known for several children’s books, and for a comedic novel called The Green Mare, written in 1933 and published in a Penguin edition in 1961. Small town France, around the end of the 19th century, a story of two families with a hate/love relationship (the hate usually predominating), and an amazing green horse which serves to make the one family famous. After the horse dies, and after the owner of the horse himself passes away and the next generation takes over, the green horse is only left as a portrait hanging over the fireplace of first one, and then another of the next generation. Interspersed between the story of the rivalry of brothers, of cross-family love affairs and would-be love affairs, and local politics, and of rumors of traditions of incestous behavior in one of the families, are the comments of the green mare herself, looking down from her two-dimensional portrait. The story is fun, ribald for the age, and (particularly in the opening chapters) laugh-aloudable.
“A green mare was something entirely without precedent, and the fact that it should have been born in Claquebue was the more remarkable since Claquebue was a place where nothing ever happened. Even the village gossip was tedious. It was said, for example, that Maloret deflowered his own daughters; but since the tale had been current for a hundred years, and it was generally understood that this was the way the Malorets always treated their daughters, the matter was no longer one of interest.”
The other book is Catherine Gammon’s Isabel Out of the Rain, published in softcover form only, by a small San Francisco Press about 15 years ago. Looking at amazon.com, I see that there are about 3,500,000 books which are selling more copies than Isabel, that there are no customer reviews, and that the two editorial reviews are quite mediocre. I just obtained the book yesterday, as a freebie, at a local library sale (buy 4, take one free), because it started out intriguingly:
“A woman picks up a younger man – in a bar. A passion. He lives with her – after three weeks she is dead. There is no third party. No witnesses. Only the man and the death. This is the story. Stop here. There is no solution.”
It is really a book about the effect of Vietnam on two men, Jacks and his buddy Santana, neither of whom can quite get their act together after they return. Santana was a deserter, and Jacks a civilian in Vietnam, who went to serve his idealistic goals, teaching English. They were involved with the same woman, Dominique, while there; she was French and had a daughter and returned to Paris. Santana had introduced her to Jacks.
Jacks had two marriages that didn’t work. Nothing worked for Santana, even after he stole Jacks’ second wife and married her in Guatamala. Fair turnabout, you say.
But then there is Isobel, who turns up at age 14 at Jacks’ door, a waif. And there is Cheyenne, Jacks’ younger brother by 16 years. They are all connected. Isobel and Jacks, Isobel and Cheyenne, Isobel and Santana, Isobel and Dominique.
What to make of it all. Stop. There is no solution.
It is a fine book.