Remember the scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral in which Carrie/Andie MacDowell shows up soaked in the rain to apologize to Charles/Hugh Grant for ruining his wedding? After Charles spotted Carrie in the church and learned she was separated from her husband, he jilted Duckface at the altar–and who could blame him?
It was one of my favorite movies of the ’90s. Two gorgeous, charming people in love: Charles meeting Carrie at a friend’s wedding, and the attraction immediate, though Charles almost bumbles their secret tryst at an inn (he can’t get away from a talkative fellow wedding guest), and though they finally work out the logistics of losing the other guest and sleeping together, the witty, vivacious Carrie gets engaged to someone else. Still, they keep meeting at weddings and elsewhere. They tell each other how many people they’ve slept with: Carrie, 32, Charles, 9.
And, naturally, the two get together in the end. The truth? I preferred his friend Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas), who admits she’s in love with Charles, but she’s the sidekick who doesn’t get the guy.
Oddly, it’s the rain scene that sticks in my mind. It’s jut raining so damned hard in that movie!
I got caught in the rain today.
It was unromantic.
I went out on my bike to pick up new bifocals and then amused myself at the Hy-Vee by discovering I can once again read small print on labels. I emerged with a bag of groceries, knowing exactly the nutritional value of each item, and…
The rain was pouring! If felt like water needles! People huddled under the awnings! Cars lined up with their windshield wipers squeaking! Boldly I hopped on my bike, unwilling to spend more time at the stores, and rode home through sheets of rain.
I thought, Hm, if I were in England, I’d have an umbrella.
Was it like Four Weddings and a Funeral? No.
In the French wrtier Anna Gavalda’s two new novellas in Life, Only Better, the despair of twenty-something characters is related to their disillusionment with technology. In the first novella, 24-year-old Mathilde wittily explains that, yes, she is still an art history student, but she actually works full-time for her brother-in-law drumming up business for his digital design agency: she targets a company by leaving negative comments under pseudonyms in Google forums, tweets, tags, yelps, and pins until businesses hire her brother-in-law to redesign their website. Then, after the companies have spent some money, she reverses the process with positive reviews.
Naturally, such work makes a person cynical. She’s pretty and smart, but she has no relationships. Her dates don’t work out. She despises her roommates, twin sisters who still go home frequently to see their parents. They have spent a lot of money on renovations on the apartment, and entrust her with their share of the money to pay the landlord while they go away for the weekend. But she leaves her bag with all the money at a cafe, and her terror of the consequences is the beginning of a meaningful change.
When Jean-Baptiste, a fat, smelly assistant chef, returns the bag with everything intact, she doesn’t know what to think of him. But she knows from things he says that he looked at the information on her phone (she is mortified to think he read her texts) and an old love letter written by an ex-boyfriend, a poet. After their brief rendezvous, the chef leaves hang-up calls in the middle of the night (which I think is creepy), but finally she picks up and accepts an invitation to a meal at his house at midnight the next night (after he gets off work). Alas, the phone number she writes down is illegible, so the romance, if that’s what it, is star-crossed. But she searches for him, because, let’s face it, he’s honest (she thinks) and he’s the most real person she’s met in a while.
She compares seeking real relationships with the illusory bread and circuses of technology.
Isn’t Facebook fantasy? And Match.com, and OkCupid, and Meetup? And all those ridiculous social websites. All those miserable cauldrons where you stir your loneliness in between two advertisements, all those “likes, ” all those networks of imaginary friends, monitored communities, penniless, sheeplike, paying fraternities connected to wealthy servers… what is that?
We’ve all been there.
The second novella is less suspenseful. Yann, a quiet 26-year-old man, has fewer highs and lows, but consistently feels empty and worthless. He has a a dead-end job: after dreaming of being a brilliant designer, he landed a job demonstrating programmable vacuum cleaners, talking refrigerators, and other electronic gizmos. He is in a sad relationship with a controlling woman he will never love. But he doesn’t realize this until he spends an evening with neighbors who are obviously very much in love, so much in love that it hurts him. He decides to take a chance he would never otherwise have taken.
I very much enjoyed these novellas, especially Mathilde. And, by the way, this is my third book by a Women in Translation this month. My second French book of the month (after Colette’s The Pure and the Impure).