He’ll always have Paris: Sometimes it’s all about location


French author Jean Echenoz understands that location is the better part of convention. Dante had his schema of the underworld, Ian Fleming his posh casinos. In two newly translated novels, Echenoz adopts these very different archetypal settings, to produce original takes on well-worn tales.

Both Piano (originally published in French in 2003) and Chopin’s Move (1989) are set in the greater Paris metropolitan area. For Echenoz, contemporary urban life is an engine of fiction. “It is in Paris, and undoubtedly because of Paris, that I start novels,” he tells the Voice. Echenoz’s Paris is meticulously detailed and consistently surreal. In Piano, a murdered musician finds that hell is the dixième arrondissement on a bad day, while in Chopin’s Move, secret agents rendezvous in hotels and vacant lots just outside the city. Some of Chopin’s Move’s best scenes are set in the skull-crushing wing of the slaughterhouse pavilion in the national food market, where the eponymous hero, a nebbishy spy-entomologist, collects the flies he straps with mini-mikes to “bug,” literally and figuratively, his victims.

Both Piano and Chopin’s Move abound with references to pop culture. Max, Piano‘s doomed protagonist, spends most of his time in purgatory trying to get an afterlife administrator to admit that he is indeed Dean Martin. In Chopin’s Move, the bug specialist takes a break from his antics to watch Forbidden Planet and the Rat Pack vehicle Some Came Running; at the same time, the whole novel is a nod to the espionage genre. Although Echenoz is often read as a parodist, he considers his genre-benders to be homage rather than satire. Echenoz is openly fascinated with the cultural touchstones he mentions—after all, he admits, he may have sentenced Dino to an eternal bureaucratic afterlife, but he still enjoys the albums.

Piano and Chopin’s Move will be published in April.

Comments by Mollie Wilson


March 9

Barnard College, James Room, fourth floor, Barnard Hall, Broadway and West 117th Street, 212.854.3577

Roddy Doyle’s recent “Recuperation” features a dead dog and a disintegrating marriage—the usual uplifting Irish fare. Hear him read selections from this story and his forthcoming novel, Oh, Play That Thing.


March 9

Barnes & Noble, 4 Astor Place

The title character of The Confessions of Max Tivoli, Greer’s new novel, declares, “We are each the love of someone’s life.” Maybe so, but aging backwards, as Tivoli does, can complicate even the most destined love affair.


March 10

Symphony Space, Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, Broadway and West 95th Street, 212.864.5400

Renaissance woman Anna Deavere Smith introduces an evening of short stories by these three writers, to be read by Russell G. Jones and Sonia Manzano (better known as “Maria” from Sesame Street. She could fix anything!).


March 16

LeFrak Concert Hall, Queens College Music Building, 65-30 Kissena Boulevard, Flushing, 718.793.8080

The title story of Lessing’s new book, The Grandmothers, concerns two elderly women who carry on affairs with each other’s teenaged sons. Lessing will read from her collection of “four short novels” and answer questions from Leonard Lopate. Try not to imagine her having sex with a teenager.


March 18

Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, 212.614.0505

When you’re finished slamming back green beer, end your St. Paddy’s Day revels by slamming some limericks with former poet laureate Billy Collins. The competition will include one-on-one limerick duels that (with any luck) will escalate into personal verse attacks before the evening is out. Anyone who can master the form is welcome to compete, so start thinking up rhymes for “There once was a man from yo’ mama.”


March 18

192 Books, 192 Tenth Avenue, 212.255.4022

Personal essayist Lopate will discuss his new book, Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan, “a series of exploratory walks” revealing the historical significance of the island’s hottest real estate.


April 8

192 Books, 192 Tenth Avenue, 212.255.4022

Haitian writer Danticat will read from her March novel, The Dew Breaker, the tale of a Brooklyn barber who happens to have spent his youth in Haiti, torturing people. You can imagine why he’d want to keep that a secret.


April 8

Barnard College, Sulzberger Parlor, third floor, Barnard Hall, Broadway and West 117th Street, 212.854.2116

Fence editor Wolff is the winner of the 2003 Barnard Women Poets Prize for her new collection, Figment. The title is probably not a reference to that little purple dragon from Epcot Center, but it never hurts to ask.


April 12

South Street Seaport Museum, Melville Gallery, 213 Water Street, 212.748.8735

According to Sullivan’s upcoming release, Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants, “If you are in New York . . . you are within close proximity to one or more rats having sex.” Try not to think about that tonight as you’re falling asleep. (Instead, think about this: one rat having sex?)


April 14

Barnard College, Brooks Living Room, Brooks Hall, Broadway and West 117th, 212.854.2037

Here’s a surprise: The author of the bleak Victorian children’s books The Secret Garden and A Little Princess had a less than idyllic childhood herself. Gerzina will discuss her forthcoming biography of Frances Hodgson Burnett, as well as her upcoming Amistad release, Bijah and Lucy: Love Beyond Slaver in Old New England.


April 21

Symphony Space, Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, Broadway and West 95th Street, 212.864.5400

The Orchid Thief author Susan Orlean will introduce this evening of short stories, to be read by David Rakoff, David Straithairn, and Sigourney Weaver (I wonder if she was ever on Sesame Street?).


May 4

LeFrak Concert Hall, Queens College Music Building, 65-30 Kissena Boulevard, Flushing, 718.793.8080

This “Roundtable on the Art of Writing” features three venerable writers, each representing her particular field: fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, respectively. Ask them which genre is the best, and watch the fur fly!