I have received several odd looks from the random inquisitor regarding Raymond Federman’s new book:
“What is that you’re reading?” This is generally the innocent question.
“Aunt Rachel’s Fur,” I reply calmly and evenly.
A look of confusion combined with horror typically follows. It must be the assumption that Aunt Rachel actually has fur, instead of a fur, the latter being the correct choice though I’m sure a furry aunt isn’t so terrible.
With several nods to Samuel Beckett (minus all that infernal waiting), Raymond Federman drops the reader into the midst of the life of Remond Namredef, writer, loquacious storyteller, and word crafter. This most recent novel, written first in French then translated to a sort of French-English hybrid in some instances, highlights the life of Namredef as told by him to various audiences. Federman seems to play with several notions of language through his manipulation of this character. Not only is the protagonist a writer himself, writing a novel seemingly similar (in tone, but not in narrative) to the one which Federman presents to the reader, but he also narrates the tale to another listener, illustrating the different storytelling methods and tones employed when speaking to different people. These techniques seem to bring into question the “truth” of the story that Namredef narrates (and Federman writes) as well as allowing a lengthy discussion throughout the novel about the act of writing itself.
The narration focuses primarily on the events surrounding the narrator’s life upon his return to France after a ten-year stint of living in the United States. Part of his return to the country of his youth spawns vivid memories of his childhood and adolescence, when he was surrounded by a fairly large extended family. As one of the poor relatives of wealthy aunts and uncles, Namredef’s family conferred upon him the proverbial black-sheep role. Aunt Rachel instead represented the ideal one who escaped the family’s petty backstabbing in means of locale, personality, and demeanor. The buildup to Rachel’s appearance and the story behind her situation is long and suspenseful, but the deviations Federman takes along the way actually seem to be more the story than the proposed narrative is. Nevertheless, the fur comes to represent and embody that which Namredef idealizes about his Aunt Rachel: financial independence, sensuality, and difference from her family. This return to the country of his birth also initiates a multitude of interesting comparisons between the United States and France, at times fluctuating between a hatred of both countries.
Back to the “truth” of all of this. According to Federman, the “truth” is what he writes, not necessarily the reality of the “story”:
I don’t believe in credibility, it handicaps me, you see for me the simple fact of saying that I was living with Susan in her apartment becomes instantly the truth . . . You make a face, I know what I’m talking about, truth, you want to know what truth is, it’s only what one says and not necessarily what one does, in real life words are always true and actions false . . .
Stating this in the early pages of the novel, this question of truth allows the reader to consistently discredit the narrator and to question his position as “truthteller” in works of fiction in general.
What Federman attempts here is to inform the reader about storytelling and writing specifically, which may prove interesting to some and a turnoff to others, though there are some extremely sensual (and downright sexual) sections of the text which will make a believer out of the most vehement opposition to Federman’s colloquial and relaxed style. Though some knowledge of the French language may be helpful in order to pick up on all of the many Frenglish words he creates (i.e.: baiseketball, in a section about the sexual prowess of basketball players a la Wilt Chamberlain I’ll let you look up the highly charged, and somewhat vulgar, sexual word Federman inserts), it’s not absolutely necessary, as he typically explains specifically what the French refers to in the text around the hybrid word.
As for the readability of all of this hypothesizing, it depends upon the patience of the reader. In the end, if it’s a plotline one seeks, or perhaps the fun summer reading of the local book club, this may be a bit offbeat for some tastes. Those with more adventurous palates will find it interesting and highly entertaining.