Mr. Djian lays out his brief novel of bad habits, betrayals and unrivaled family dysfunction in a starved, detached manner that echoes elements of American minimalism. The characters’ emotions are raw but the writing is flat, laconic and almost pathologically suppressed, as though the syntax itself had suffered some kind of trauma. Mr. Djian’s feat is to tell a story of such dramatic disintegration with so few pen strokes ... Yet something is off about this book. The scenes are mostly rendered in elliptical dialogue, so it’s awkward to run up against lines like 'He’d bet his bottom dollar on it' or 'You think you can just waltz in and screw up twenty years of marriage. Give me a break, not in your wildest dreams.' The idioms are wrong; it’s impossible to imagine Iraq War veterans speaking this way. Mark Polizzotti is one of the best French translators working, but Mr. Djian’s imitation of American stylists may have posed an insuperable obstacle—sometimes Marlene reads as though Hemingway had been translated into French and then back into English. The catch with the novel of few words is that they have to be the right ones.
Two 30-something veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen grapple with assimilating back into civilian life in this abrasive novel from French writer Djian ... Djian’s disjointed style results in several jolting shocks and hazy situations, which form a piercing psychological group portrait. Readers who appreciate messy interpersonal dynamics will enjoy piecing together this shadowy story.
The characters in Djian’s novel could have stepped straight from the pages of the most melancholy Raymond Carver short story ... The novel begins in shades of gray and slides toward black as incidents of petty crime, physical violence, and sexual betrayal mount. Djian situates the relationships of all five of these unsympathetic characters in a cul-de-sac from which it’s obvious early in the novel they lack the ability, or even the will, to escape ... what’s lacking is any truly tragic sense beyond an obvious regret at the senseless loss of human life. That shortcoming results from Djian’s choice to spend more time creating a moody portrait of working-class despair than he does plumbing his characters’ inner lives in any meaningful way ... A grim tale of infidelity and family dysfunction.