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Ordinary people

Not much happens in Dominique Fabre’s novel “The Waitress Was New” (Archipelago: 118 pp., $15 paper). But then, that’s entirely the point. Narrated by Pierre, a middle-aged Paris barman, the book offers a slice-of-the-unexamined-life, a glimpse into the quotidian.

It’s not that Fabre’s characters are unimportant, just that they tend to go unnoticed; the people we see on the bus, in the corner store or on the sidewalk -- quick impressions that drift almost imperceptibly across the eye. “The office workers get off at the station to take their train,” Pierre observes, “the others go on to the warehouses and the last few factories a little further along, we’re all together, just a little tired. . . . And then no, after all, you catch a glance, a face, and things are much better than you think.”

Fabre’s prose (as translated by Jordan Stump) is spare and impressionistic, elegant yet matter-of-fact. The perfect vehicle for a narrator to whom the world “seems like a bunch of different movies running at the same time. There are romance movies and sad movies, and if you pay attention most of their stories start to get all mixed together, till there’s no way you can go on telling them to yourself.”

Pierre’s own life is more a matter of small steps, of putting one foot in front of the other, even as he understands exactly where that leads. “There couldn’t have been more than ten of us in that last car,” he reflects one evening on the Metro, “and I felt like we were all rushing together toward a big, not completely black hole, but I seemed to be the only one who knew.” Here, we have the essence of Fabre’s vision -- resigned but not despairing, gently, if uneasily, reconciled with fate. Vivid, haunting, deeply moving, this is fiction that has much to tell us about the profundity of daily life.

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--David L. Ulin

david.ulin@latimes.com


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