Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Man on the Bench in the Barn

French title: La Main
Year Published: 1968
Englished:  Moura Budberg, 1970

The Man on the Bench in the Barn – Georges Simenon

Georges Simenon wrote 13 novels with American settings and characters, nine with the point of view of Americans and four from that of foreigners or new immigrants. Often they are bleak tales, about and for middle-aged readers whose illusions are getting smaller in the rear view mirror.

This novel starts with a bash in the burbs. The Sanders spend the weekend with their friends the Dodds. The two couples attend a party organized by the Ashbridges. Enough alcohol flows to cloud everybody’s judgement. Donald Dodd is boozily troubled at spying old college chum Ray Sanders in the arms of the hostess.

The two couples face hazard in a blizzard while driving home. Ray gets lost in the snowstorm. Donald goes out to look for him. Brought down low by fatigue and alcohol, he prefers to take refuge on a bench in a barn. One never knows when a liminal space will pop up in Simenon novel, but while sitting and smoking, Donald’s train of thought becomes confused…or clarified.

It comes to him that his friendly relationship with Ray is in fact only a disguised envy for another man who is financially successful and sits on the receiving end of life’s bounty. Meanwhile he, Donald, with a modest income, feels bound to his wife and to his job merely by habit, by necessity, driven to pay for crap he doesn’t even want. In a boozy haze, he feels hatred and envy for his neighbor Ray and persuades himself that it is okay to let Ray die by not going to his rescue.

A couple days later Ray’s body found. The police speculate that the fell from the top of a rock. Donald does not feel less responsible for his death. He constantly thinks about what he should have done to save his old buddy. His guilt, however, doesn’t stop him from making Ray’s widow into his mistress.

His wife is a model of consolation. But Donald’s fantasies haunt him. His guilt festers as he becomes obsessed with the notion that his wife knows his culpability and is looking at him askance. His worried mind deteriorates. His health begins to falter.

Simenon explores emptiness that must be filled with obsessions and a scary detachment from reality that must moored by going through the motions of daily life.

Other Non-Maigret Novels by Simenon

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