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The Waitress Was New

The Waitress Was New
By Dominique Fabre, translated by Jordan Stump
Archipelago Books, 2008

Pierre, a bartender, is a gentle man—tactful, considerate. He may not always have been so, but life has worn him smooth. Even in the privacy of his own mind, he maintains a respectful distance from the world. He’s canny enough to know what comes of engagement. Of a new waitress at work, he writes, “I don’t look too closely at her shoes, the way I usually do to size someone up, because I had a feeling she’d seen some rough times and there was no point in overdoing it.”

This, the narrative voice of Dominique Fabre’s new novel, creates an atmosphere which is comfortable but not quite intimate. And the reader, in turn, is left wondering whether intimacy with Pierre is even possible. The extent to which he’s addressing himself alone or a random patron at his bar is somewhat in question, but we’re can’t tell weather his tone would change either way. Small details are noted in the same resigned voice of mild interest, as are life-changing events.

In The Waitress Was New, we watch Pierre’s professional life disintegrate over the course of one long weekend in Asniéres-sur-Seine. The novel is an exercise in perspective, where modest quiet moments of reflection can become huge and moving simply because of how infrequently they occur, as below, when Pierre looks up:

The sky was brighter here, because of the height of the building. Sometimes the sky must even have been a little too bright. It made me think of before, long before, when I wasn’t a barman but a fireman, an explorer, a soldier, and a soccer player, a long way from Le Cercle, the bright sky I had inside me, and above me, before the apartment blocks where I grew up.

And then we’re back to the shifting pattern of the street crowd, the variations in the weather.

Dominique Fabre has written ten novels in French and thanks to Jordan Stump, we finally have the chance to read one of his poised, quietly dark stories translated into English. The Waitress Was New is a fine short novel and entirely deserving of the American audience that Archipelago Books has delivered it to.

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John Cotter
‘s novel Under the Small Lights was published by Miami University Press in 2010 and his short fiction is forthcoming from Redivider and New Genre. He’s a founding editor at Open Letters Monthly and lives in Denver, Colorado.