ACCORDING to the Anna-lexicon, a short dictionary at the back of Larry Tremblay's The Bicycle Eater, an Anna blast is an abrupt change in life that leads a person to experience a crisis of identity, nosebleeds and no end of trouble come hell or high water.
Translated from French by Sheila Fischman, The Bicycle Eater is a hallucinatory monologue by the lovelorn, love-torn young photographer Christophe, directed at his ex-almost-girlfriend, the adolescent Anna. Christophe calls his beloved Anna zoo, Anna moon, Anna sail, Anna slab, Anna gaze.
Our hapless hero pines for Anna long after she has crushed his hopes for a relationship and hooked up with LÃ¢m, the Vietnamese orphan her family adopted (then kicked out after he seduced her). After a few attempts to win her back, Christophe leaves Montreal âe" where every sight is impregnated with memories and imaginings of Anna âe" for Mexico. "Only the brutal Caribbean sun would extinguish the fire that Anna had kindled beneath my skin."
Unfortunately for him, his desperate attachment to Anna combined with his fervent desire to be immolated in the intensity of passion leads Christophe into new romantic entanglements. He meets Rita, an older, French, Aztec-obsessed woman who, writes her husband to Christophe, is dying and must be comforted by a virile younger man.
Finding his letter, Christophe sees that the standards for true love are higher than even he had supposed:
Never in my life had I been witness to a love so pure. Once I'd finished reading I was deeply in love with that man's love for his wife. A love, Anna richochet, that cast a shadow over the love that I'd lavished on you and from which I tried with all my might to exclude myself. So much so that I was assailed by doubt: had I loved you enough?
Soon it becomes hard for Christophe to tell just whom he loves, as characters begin to peel off into others like onion skins.
The madcap plot is unlikely, the mishaps endless, the protagonist and other characters sometimes wearyingly over-the-top. Just as I hovered between âeoelike itâe and âeoehate it,âe the author threw in that most tired of plot devices: a version of the it-was-all-a-dream cop-out. "Yes, I was well and truly in Montreal, in my apartment, with Anna bending over me." Had he ever been under the Mexican sun?
But Tremblay's persistent inventiveness held me despite myself. I followed as the story became a series of dizzying comic metamorphoses, character doublings and coincidences that I won't spoil here. My assessment changed: I saw Ovidian transformations, Rabelaisian sexual hi-jinks, Bourroughsish hallucinations, and a unique (Tremblaisian?) spirit. His language is gorgeous, inventive and theatrically rhythmic, his metaphors overblown but exuberant, and undiminished by Fischmanâe(TM)s equally ebullient translation.
In the end, I'm tending towards congratulating Tremblay for his literary trespasses. He successfully and entertainingly shows how love leads indeed to crises of identity, abrupt life changes, nosebleeds and, without a doubt, no end of trouble. Who can't identify with Christophe's titular, desperate attempt, against all reason or hope, to win an unmoveable love?
"I'll do whatever you want, I swear."
"Eat your bicycle."
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