Dimitri Nasrallah on FaceBook, Jan 5, 2021 about the review of the trilogy 1984 by André Forget in the Southwest Review
The Southwest Review kicks off the new year with a brilliant and incisive deep dive into Véhicule Press’s English-language edition of Eric Plamondon‘s 1984 Trilogy, which I’ve translated from the French.
« It would be presumptuous to suggest that the latest Great American Novel has been written in French by a Quebecois expatriate living in Burgundy, but it seems to be what Plamondon is trying for, » writes André Forget.
« This capaciousness is possible in large part because Plamondon rejects the conventions of the realist narrative. »Originally published by Le Quartanier Éditeur, this set is definitely worth a revisit if the final volume, Apple S, missed your radar when it was published during peak pandemic last spring.
About the Southwest Review:
Founded in 1915 and housed on the campus of Southern Methodist University, Southwest Review is the third-longest-running literary quarterly in the United States. SwR has featured many important writers, including D. H. Lawrence, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Robert Penn Warren, Allen Ginsberg, Annie Dillard, and Anne Carson. Four Nobel winners—Saul Bellow, Naguib Mahfouz, Nadine Gordimer, and Orhan Pamuk—have published inside its covers. The magazine is also known for eyeing talent before it becomes widely recognized. In 1960 SwR printed a poem by an unknown Texan named Larry McMurtry, followed a year later by an excerpt from his debut novel. On our centennial, former fiction editor Ben Fountain remarked, “The roll call of heavyweights who’ve appeared in its pages stands up to any American magazine, large or small, of the past 100 years.”
« It would be rather difficult to summarize the plot of these books. The first, Hungary-Hollywood Express, tells the story of Weissmuller, a Hungarian immigrant who reached the pinnacle of athletic achievement and became a film icon for his portrayal of Tarzan, living the American dream of Hollywood’s Golden Age in all its wealth and squalor. The second, Mayonnaise, is about Brautigan, the anti-establishment beatnik who wanted to dissolve literary and political hierarchies and embodied the soured optimism of the sixties and seventies. The final book follows Jobs, the middle-class rebel who turned the mores of his generation into some real money and became the avatar of the tech-utopianism that we are still living with today.
The story Plamondon distills from the biographies of Weissmuller, Brautigan, and Jobs is about many things—hubris and nemesis, idealism and disillusionment, immigration and emigration, California as a state of mind. But it’s also a story about the mythologization of America in the twentieth century, and the particular way mass media and celebrity have created the conditions for a fundamentally mimetic way of being. It would be presumptuous to suggest that the latest Great American Novel has been written in French by a Quebecois expatriate living in Burgundy, but it seems to be what Plamondon is trying for.
This capaciousness is possible in large part because Plamondon rejects the conventions of the realist narrative. Instead, his novels unfold in self-contained vignettes. Some of these deal with the lives of his principle characters, but they are interspersed with poems, meditations, and historical tangents—the story of the arms-and-typewriter manufacturer Remington, for example, or an account of how the Statue of Liberty, originally designed to welcome ships into the Suez Canal, ended up in New York Harbor.
The various strands are held together by Plamondon’s alter ego, the French-Canadian Gabriel Rivages, the trilogy’s narrator, curator, observer, compositor, and Greek chorus. Like his creator, Rivages was born in Quebec in 1969. An everyman with a taste for poetry, pop music, and American television, he constantly interrupts the stories of the main characters with anecdotes from his own ordinary life. His consciousness is the focal point through which the kaleidoscopic stories of Weissmuller, Brautigan, and Jobs align, the pier-glass that turns the random crosshatching of information into a series of coherent arcs. The effect is a blurring of identity: it’s not always clear who’s talking. »