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Culture

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Un polar qui irrite en Amérique

by Patrick Appel-Muller

United States: A Detective Story that Irritates America.

Translated Sunday 1 October 2006

United States: Behind the masks, Iain Levison reveals the hypocrisy and the frustrations of a society. The story of a disaster told with bitter irony. Rather than wait for an American editor to dare publish it, you can read Une canaille et demie in French! [1]

There are three of them, each a symbol of American Society, who will reveal the hypocrisy and the frustrations of what the United States is all about. Dixon, the hold-up man, well-behaved and generous, dreams of investing his nest-egg in a farm in Canada to raise alpacas (from the Andes) or chickens. Elias, the university professor, ready to do anything to further his career (even to become a proponent of negationism if this is what it takes to get media attention), is eager to sleep with any available female student. At present, “he is becoming the same boring and negative loafer his father was”. Denise, the FBI agent, who believed in “justice” in her country, but who unfortunately is a woman, will never reach the status her qualifications should qualify her for.

Iain Levison inter-weaves their lives, their fears, their hopes and their disillusions in a small New Hampshire town. The varnish starts cracking early in the novel. Even charming Denise will let a murder go unpunished in exchange for a recommendation for a teaching position. Nobody comes out unscathed, not the nurse who lets herself be corrupted to escape a miserable daily existence, nor the little vampish college girl, nor the FBI agent, beautiful and stupid at the same time.

The frustrations and crushed hopes for those who stay behind create a rot - a gangrene - in the relations between the characters in the novel.

Iain Levison tells this story with a cold irony. In the “richest country in the world”, where “sixty million people owe money to the banks - more money than they will ever earn”, and “Texas farmers see their farms seized for forfeiture”…”its not fair” - says the hold-up man destined to disaster, while the cynical and wretched university professor at least has a future in front of him. “We really live in a great country. All’s well that ends well”. Sic

However, American publishers do not like this sort of arrogance.

Levison’s novel could not be published in the U.S., but was welcomed in France by the editor, Liana Levi , Iain Levinson’s first novel “A Working Stiff’s Manifesto” [2], had already irritated the so-called politically-correct Americans. The story of a small town, plunged into misery by the relocation to Mexico of its only corporation, and the story of its sensitive narrator, obliged to recycle himself as a hit man, seemed altogether too anti-capitalist. Economic rationality appeared too much like a logical capitalist savagery. The “country of freedom” has to know its limits. The editors in this case did what was expected of them. [3]

It is a pity for American readers that this book is not published in their country; they will perhaps have the opportunity to read it when it comes back from France, having been met with the praise it deserves.

Iain Levison, the author, Scottish by birth and a professional carpenter, has been around. In a way that makes for the best American novelists. Crab fisherman in Alaska, truck driver, painter on construction sites, ... , he has worked at many jobs, after his university studies. He knows the other face of the United States: “Shyster and a half.”

[1Une canaille et demie, by Iain Levison, translated by Fanchita Gonzales Batlle, Liana Levi Editions, 224 pages, 18 euros.

[2A Working Stiff’s Manifesto: A Memoir of Thirty Jobs I Quit, Nine That Fired Me, and Three I Can’t Remember, Random House, 2003

[3see also his book Since The Layoffs: A Novel


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