Salon recommends

A new translation of Proust's funny, biting early stories about rich Parisians, Jim Thompson's cult-classic trip into the head of a coldblooded killer and more.


Salon Staff
April 23, 2001 11:00PM (UTC)

What we're reading, what we're liking

The Complete Short Stories of Marcel Proust translated by Joachim Neugroschel
In the first translation in over 50 years of his precursor to "The Remembrance of Things Past," Proust does small things well, like describe rich, capricious Parisians. "The members of high society are so mediocre," he writes in "Violante or High Society," "that Violante merely had to deign to mingle with them in order to eclipse nearly all of them." Also thorough is sickness: Asthmatic, allergic to strong light and a hypochondriac to the point of avoiding baths -- he preferred to dab himself with damp towels -- Proust doesn't skimp on illness in these stories. His characters are dying or having conversations with the dying. (This dying, in turn, isn't so much dark as it is an annoying obstacle to living, which is done so intensely, and sensitively, that some sort of crimp was inevitable.) The stories can't compare to "Remembrance," but they shouldn't, and sometimes they're great anyway: A sick man in "The Death of Baldassare Silvande, Viscount of Sylvania" clenches his teeth "to cloak a joy that did not strike him as very sublime," and this is the Proust we know, giving us sympathetic people in complicated gestures. They're funny and sad, and at their best, unstable and probably in need of a doctor.

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-- Chris Colin

The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
Thompson was a hack novelist and an alcoholic, with a life story that -- along with his institutionalized father -- repeatedly manifested in his fiction. He churned out more than 20 novels, novelizations and screenplays (notably for Stanley Kubrick). "The Killer Inside Me" didn't do much in 1952, when it was published, but later, in the 1980s and early '90s, it became well established on the "great cult novels" reading list, alongside books by Elmore Leonard, H.P. Lovecraft, and William S. Burroughs; it was the kind of book that hip movie stars talked about in interviews. "The Killer Inside Me" is about a small-town deputy in Texas who pretends to be a half-witted rube. He's demented, and he's smart enough to recognize exactly what's wrong with him. One night, he offs a prostitute along with one of her johns. It's grisly stuff, made all the more sinister by the deputy's coldhearted, pedestrian plotting. Thompson's prose is cold and stark, though sometimes it can feel just too plain. But his antiheroes are always fascinating, even though they're harder to accept now that we're so used to seeing crime from the criminal's point of view in movies, novels, and rap songs -- even journalism.

-- Jeff Stark

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