FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Fear of Growing Up

by CHARLES R. LARSON

It’s difficult to think of Jean-Christophe Valtat’s 03 as a novel as its publishers claim. Big print, lots of white space, 84 pages, one paragraph—almost no plot–but, fortunately, plenty of reflection on an incident that happened in the narrator’s life years ago. Nor do I have a clue at all about the title, 03, unless that is the possible mental age of the girl the narrator obsesses about.

The unnamed narrator—though looking back on an incident much earlier in his life—is sixteen years old at the time, and one day at a school bus stop in a French suburb, he observes a girl perhaps two years younger. She’s brought each day by her mother for another school bus than the narrator’s because she is clearly mentally retarded, though strikingly beautiful, and sent to a special school for handicapped students. And it is that lushness which attracts him to her, with all sorts of speculations about her future life and, of course, his. His life will be one of “privileges…thanks to my normal intelligence,” while hers may become one of exploitation, even abuse by men because of her extreme beauty and her innocence

The novel develops a fascinating triangulation of the two characters. The narrator is set off from the mainstream as much as the girl, because he’s insecure—largely because he’s not part of any social clique at his own school—thus every bit as much an outcast as the girl he can’t get out of his mind. Of himself he states,

“…the biggest problem I faced was my tendency, from very early on and anytime I could, to take things much too seriously, given my hostile surroundings and, above all, my sorry lack of dignity, one of the more charming features of macho adolescent males. So I could see that, where feelings were concerned, I too was slightly deficient, and that my latest romantic escapade merely rehashed the old drama of ‘feelings too deep for words,’ except this time nobody cared and no one would find out and no one would ever make fun of me. For if this young retarded girl stood as a reflection of my own failure to fit in, when I gazed narcissistically into the slimming mirror of my own weakness, her image also kept this weakness, for once, safely from view.”

The narrator’s extreme angst, his sense of being a social pariah, mirrors, then, his “own unhappy childhood reflected in this young girl.” But it also reverberates upon the adult inability to regard children as anything but their own lost selves, nostalgia for a time that cannot be recaptured. Children, he reflects, are the most oppressed creatures on earth. “Just look how they were led day and night to their bus stops, in rain or snow or gale-force winds, their bags excessively weighted down by the cumbersome learning of their teachers….”

Ergo, no exit from childhood except into the conformity of adulthood, sameness, lack of imagination and predictable routine.

The innocence of his love for the young girl achieves a kind of purity, repeatedly brought to his attention by her presence at the school bus stop but also her vulnerability and his own: “So while she was waiting there, frail to no end, like a signpost when they’ve torn off the sign, I saw all these possibilities in her that had become impossible, and I projected onto her fragility the immense waste of talent I was forced to observe every day in my closest friends and suffered a little too readily in myself, a waste that filled me with a vengeful bitterness and pride at having salvaged or developed a talent that would allow me to forget, even in the moment of giving up on them, my own irreparable limitations which, as they tightened within me, grew and grew.”

Ultimately, it’s a fear of growing up, of entering the adult world, and the focal point of his own youth—the vulnerable young girl—is every bit his own clear understanding that once he becomes a man, it’s all over as far as purity, innocence and difference are concerned.

03 has been seamlessly translated by Mitzi Angel.

03
By Jean-Christophe Valtat
Translated by Mitzi Angel
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 84 pp., $12

CHARLES R. LARSON is Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C.

 

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

February 10, 2016
Eoin Higgins
Clinton and the Democratic Establishment: the Ties That Bind
Fred Nagel
The Role of Legitimacy in Social Change
Jeffrey St. Clair
Why Bernie Still Won’t Win
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Aleppo Gamble Pays Off
Chris Martenson
The Return of Crisis: Everywhere Banks are in Deep Trouble
Ramzy Baroud
Next Onslaught in Gaza: Why the Status Quo Is a Precursor for War
Sheldon Richman
End, Don’t Extend, Draft Registration
Benjamin Willis
Obama in Havana
Jack Smith
Obama Intensifies Wars and Threats of War
Rob Hager
How Hillary Clinton Co-opted the Term “Progressive”
Mark Boothroyd
Syria: Peace Talks Collapse, Aleppo Encircled, Disaster Looms
Lawrence Ware
If You Hate Cam Newton, It’s Probably Because He’s Black
Jesse Jackson
Starving Government Creates Disasters Like Flint
Bill Laurance
A Last Chance for the World’s Forests?
Gary Corseri
ABC’s of the US Empire
Frances Madeson
The Pain of the Earth: an Interview With Duane “Chili” Yazzie
Binoy Kampmark
The New Hampshire Distortion: The Primaries Begin
Andrew Raposa
Portugal: Europe’s Weak Link?
Wahid Azal
Dugin’s Occult Fascism and the Hijacking of Left Anti-Imperialism and Muslim Anti-Salafism
February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The “Great” Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
Brian Foley
Interview With a Bernie Broad: We Need to Start Focusing on Positions and Stop Relying on Sexism
February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail