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Gavalda's slim second novel, published here in back-to-back English and French versions, tells a spare, dialogue-based tale of a young, abandoned wife. Chloé, mother of two, is in shock after her husband, Adrien, leaves her for another woman. In an improbable move, her laconic father-in-law, Pierre, rescues her, driving Chloé and her daughters to his country house, where they spend a few surprisingly therapeutic days together. While in the country, Pierre gives Chloé an extended account of an extramarital affair of his own. His dalliance was based on real love, and this, ironically, comforts Chloé. Gavalda's prose style is refreshingly elliptical, though often the reader longs for more than a scrap of exposition. At the book's best moments, mundane details mingle with Chloé's despair to create an even deeper sadness: while cooking dinner with Pierre, Chloé reflects, "I cried, thinking occasionally about how the spaghetti was going to be inedible if I didn't add some oil." But Gavalda's prose can also lurch clumsily between triteness and sarcasm: "Go to the ends of the earth, clamber over thickets, hedges, ditches, get a stuffy nose, cross old Marcel's courtyard, and watch Teletoons while eating strawberry-flavored marshmallows. Sometimes, life is wonderful...." Such awkward pathos weighs down Gavalda's airy tale. (Apr. 5)
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One publishing "innovation" marking the century's turn is the use of slide-presentation software to compose novels. These PowerPoint creations are tailored to indulge decreasing attention spans in terms of overall and individual segment length (there goes deep characterization) and to require minimal adaptation for the movies. At first, Gavalda's super-slim international best-seller seems to fit that model perfectly (its high page count derives from its appendix: the entire text in the original French). Its inciting incident is minimal. But is what follows? Adrien Dippel leaves his wife, Chloe, and their two small girls for another woman. The tale unfolds from Chloe's brokenhearted point of view in bursts of dialogue as her father-in-law, breaking 42 years of silence about his own infidelity, bares his soul to her, and the two huddle over the kitchen table eating, drinking, consoling, attacking, and regrouping. Using the conversation to explore the motivations and nuances involved in marriage, and bringing to life some exquisitely delineated characters and their familial bonds, Gavalda's novel is anything but calculatedly shallow. Whitney Scott
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