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Kirkus: "Schmitt's tales echo Maupassant's with their lean narratives, surprise endings, mordant humor and psychological acuity."

Date: Jun 15 2009

Eight stories about a variety of women from French playwright/novelist
Schmitt.

Several start with intriguing puzzles. Who is the old woman repeatedly
breaking into Odile's Paris apartment? (The answer in "The Intruder" sheds
an imaginative light on sickness.) What is the secret at the heart of
Isabelle's apparently successful marriage, and why should it begin to
unravel at her hairdresser's ("Every Reason to be Happy")? The title story's
question is in a class of its own. The setting is a Soviet-era women's
re-education camp in Siberia. The new arrival, Olga, has a wild tangle of
hair: Why is that so important? All the women long to communicate with their
faraway daughters, and it's deeply moving that the most ordinary among them
hits on the perfect solution, revealed only in an epilogue. Schmitt's tales
echo Maupassant's with their lean narratives, surprise endings, mordant
humor and psychological acuity. That humor and acuity sparkle in "A Fine
Rainy Day." Hélène is a perfectionist and a malcontent; Antoine sees only
the good. Their marriage is counterintuitive, yet it works. The eponymous
"Odette Toulemonde," a humble Belgian shop assistant, is the devoted fan of
a potboiler novelist with big problems. Odette shows him the way out,
moderating a meeting with the novelist, his publisher and his difficult
wife. Even the slighter stories have their charms. A touring actor returns
to the Sicilian village where, years before, a beautiful young woman invited
him to a fabulous restaurant and then to her bed ("The Barefoot Princess").
A discarded mistress picks the wrong target for her revenge in "The
Forgery," which features a Picasso, while an old beach bum's really bad
paintings fetch big bucks in "Wanda Winnipeg"; the world's wealthiest woman
is repaying, finally, her first lover.

Fairy tales and realistic studies happily coexist in this elegant
collection.

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