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.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 01, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Hillary: Ordinarily Awful or Uncommonly Awful?
Pam Martens
Clinton Says Wall Street Banks Aren’t the Threat, But Her Platform Writers Think They are
Jason Hirthler
Washington’s Not-So-Invisible Hand: It’s Not Economics, It’s Empire
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Marx on Financial Bubbles: Much Keener Insights Than Contemporary Economists
Pete Dolack
Brexit Will Only Count if Everybody Leaves the EU
Evan Jones
Ancillary Lessons from Brexit
Aidan O'Brien
Brexit: the English and Welsh Enlightenment
Jeremy R. Hammond
How Turkey’s Reconciliation Deal with Israel Harms the Palestinians
Margaret Kimberley
Beneficial Chaos: the Good News About Brexit
Phyllis Bennis
From Paris to Istanbul, More ‘War on Terror’ Means More Terrorist Attacks
Ishmael Reed
OJ and Jeffrey Toobin: Black Bogeyman Auctioneer
Ron Jacobs
Let There Be Rock
Ajamu Baraka
Paris, Orlando and Turkey: Displacing the Narrative of Western Innocence
Robert Fantina
The First Amendment, BDS and Third-Party Candidates
David Rosen
Whatever Happened to Utopia?
Andre Vltchek
Brexit – Let the UK Screw Itself!
Jonathan Latham
107 Nobel Laureate Attack on Greenpeace Traced Back to Biotech PR Operators
Steve Horn
Fracked Gas LNG Exports Were Centerpiece In Promotion of Panama Canal Expansion, Documents Reveal
Robert Koehler
The Right to Bear Courage
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Spin Masquerading as Science Courtesy of “Shameful White Men of Privilege”
Binoy Kampmark
Who is Special Now? The Mythology Behind the US-British Relationship
Mark B. Baldwin
Russia to the Grexit?
Andrew Wimmer
Killer Grief
Manuel E. Yepe
Sanders, Socialism and the New Times
Franklin Lamb
ISIS is Gone, But Its Barbarity Still Haunts Palmyra
Mark Weisbrot
A Policy of Non-Intervention in Venezuela Would be a Welcome Change
Cesar Chelala
How Tobacco Became the Opium War of the 21st Century
Joseph Natoli
How We Reached the Point Where We Can’t Hear Each Other
Andrew Stewart
Skip “Hamilton” and Read Gore Vidal’s “Burr”
Christopher Brauchli
Educating Kansas
George Wuerthner
Ranching and the Future of the Sage Grouse
Thomas Knapp
Yes, a GOP Delegate Revolt is Possible
Gilbert Mercier
Democracy Is Dead
Andy Piascik
The Hills of Connecticut: Where Theatre and Life Became One
Charles R. Larson
Mychal Denzel Smith’s “Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: a Young Black Man’s Education”
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Four Morning Ducks
June 30, 2016
Richard Moser
Clinton and Trump, Fear and Fascism
Pepe Escobar
The Three Harpies are Back!
Ramzy Baroud
Searching for a ‘Responsible Adult’: ‘Is Brexit Good for Israel?’
Dave Lindorff
What is Bernie Up To?
Thomas Barker
Saving Labour From Blairism: the Dangers of Confining the Debate to Existing Members
Jan Oberg
Why is NATO So Irrational Today?
John Stauber
The Debate We Need: Gary Johnson vs Jill Stein
Steve Horn
Obama Administration Approved Over 1,500 Offshore Fracking Permits
Rob Hager
Supreme Court Legalizes Influence Peddling: McDonnell v. United States
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail