“Abondance” (Abundance), by Jakob Guanzon, translated from English (United States) by Charles Bonnot, La Croisée, 336 p., €22, digital €15.
A father and his young son wandering in the depths of the United States. A missing mother, dwindling food supplies. A hostile environment and a single obsession: to survive. We are not in The roadby Cormac McCarthy (L’Olivier, 2008), but in Plenty, the first novel by American Jakob Guanzon. No post-apocalypse here, just a dive into the America of the left-behind – an epic, in many ways, equally terrifying.
In a flat Midwest like the future that awaits many of its inhabitants, these marginalized people have sunk into misery, sucked into its quicksand. Henry, 26, has just spent five in prison for drug trafficking. After his release, Michelle, his partner, abandoned their mobile home, leaving him alone with their 8-year-old son, Junior, an introverted boy he struggles to tame. Evicted from their home for unpaid rent, they live in their pick-up truck, Henry doing odd jobs, Junior following a laborious schooling.
Dark picture? No, because the protagonists, animated by an impressive vital force, are determined to fight against the image of losers that society returns to them. The hope that Henry clings to at the beginning of the book is the job interview he has to pass for a lasting job. A hard worker, he bet everything on his preparation. Will he succeed?
Plenty is nothing like a tear-jerking report. Guanzon, raised in underprivileged Minnesota, depicts the daily struggle of those who live on a handful of dollars. Each chapter begins with a number: the amount Henry has available on a day-to-day basis. This count – which the series also adopts maidadapted from the story by Stéphanie Land (Globe, 2020) – highlights the frustration that the hyperconsumption society can represent for those who do not have access to it. It’s in a McDonald’s that Henry must content himself with celebrating Junior’s birthday with, the ultimate luxury, the prospect of a night in the real bed of a motel.
anger and lack
The strength of the novel is not to seek excuses for its characters. Admittedly, Henry and Michelle, who met as teenagers in a psychiatric hospital, had a painful childhood. But, in the eyes of the narrator, nothing justifies their excesses. If Michelle consumes narcotics, if Henry, surfing the wave of opioids, has become an accomplice of a drug trafficker, everyone is responsible for their choices, with their consequences.
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