"Stranger in Translation" by Charles Raines
Unusual, and bloody brilliant
Very Highly Recommended
In what seemed like a great move at the time, a young linguist agrees to spend six months translating a current bestseller from English to French. What better place than Marseilles, right? Romance, French men and great food and scenery. The young man settles into a perfectly adequate apartment and begins. Then promptly gets stuck.
It seems our unnamed translator hates the book, and feels contempt for the frivolous author. The city's people aggravate him. He's fighting feelings of his ambiguous sexuality, his ennui, and the terrible itchy feeling that something is missing. That his life has no meaning, and this trip is a waste.
He beings hanging out in a local cemetery, on a small bench facing the gravestone of Maurice Mansour. Soon enough, a handsome and mysterious young jogger begins to meet him there, and a slow dance of seduction begins. Along the way, our narrator has a series of encounters with various men, one-offs and meaningless. But always, the jogger nudges and occupies his attention.
Just as our young man begins to feel some hope, something solid, something worthwhile...there's a turn, a secret revealed.
And I can't tell you more without ruining the story and where it goes.
Charles Raines has captured the restless, scratchy, wrong-in-my-skin unrest that men feel as they grapple with what their place in the world will be. Gay, straight, bisexual - it doesn't matter. As Mr. Raines shows in fascinating and intimate detail is that it's the journey, not the destination, that matters. It's the self-definition and discovery that leads to acceptance and calm, not what others perceive you as.
This book is at once in-your-face and quietly fascinating. We see the young man's struggle, his restlessness as he wrestles with his own feelings of superiority and snobbery, which fade into a deeply unsettling, to him, revelation of what his place truly is in the world. And how the challenge of changing not only definition of self, but his worldview, makes him settle into himself.
I really liked that there were no easy solutions for our unnamed narrator. Life is seldom tidy and clean, and the bumpy ride feels...right.
Mr. Raines has a steady, brutally frank voice that I find intriguing and like a LOT. I can't wait to see where he goes next, because this book is brilliant.