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A Life on Paper: Stories

May 25, 2010

“As weird as they are elegant, as delicious as they are unsettling, these fables place Châteaureynaud in the secret brotherhood that has only exemplars, no definition: Kafka, Bruno Schulz, Nathanael West, Aimee Bender. We are lucky indeed to have them, in a very skilled translation.”
—John Crowley (Little, Big)

“These 22 curious tales verging on the perverse will strike new English readers of Châteaureynaud’s work as a wonderful find. Beautiful prose featuring ingenuous protagonists and clever, unexpected forays into horror are the hallmarks of these mischievous stories.”
Publishers Weekly

The celebrated career of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud is well known to readers of French literature. This comprehensive collection—the first to be translated into English—introduces a distinct and dynamic voice to the Anglophone world. In many ways, Châteaureynaud is France’s own Kurt Vonnegut, and his stories are as familiar as they are fantastic.

A Life on Paper presents characters who struggle to communicate across the boundaries of the living and the dead, the past and the present, the real and the more-than-real. A young husband struggles with self-doubt and an ungainly set of angel wings in “Icarus Saved from the Skies,” even as his wife encourages him to embrace his transformation. In the title story, a father’s obsession with his daughter leads him to keep her life captured in 93,284 unchanging photographs. While Châteaureynaud’s stories examine the diffidence and cruelty we are sometimes capable of, they also highlight the humanity in the strangest of us and our deep appreciation for the mysterious.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Brian Evenson
A Citizen Speaks
A Life on Paper
Come Out, Come Out
Icarus Saved from the Skies
The Only Mortal
The Peacocks
Unlivable
A Room on the Abyss
The Gulf of the Years
The Dolceola Player
The Pest
Delaunay the Broker
The Excursion
La Tête
The Styx
The Beautiful Coalwoman
A City of Museums
The Guardicci Masterpiece
Écorcheville
Sweet Street
The Bronze Schoolboy
The Pavilion and the Linden
Another Story

Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud is the author of nine novels, two young adult novels, and over one hundred short stories. Despite a lifelong fear of flying, he has been to Peru—his only time on a plane—and lived to pen a travel memoir about the experience. He is the recipient of the prestigious Prix Renaudot, Prix Goncourt de la nouvelle (for short stories), Prix Giono, Prix Valéry Larbaud, and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire. His work has been translated into fourteen languages.

Born in Paris in 1947, Châteaureynaud was a solitary child who became a voracious and unprejudiced reader, ingesting Treasure Island as avidly as Lady Chatterley’s Lover. He studied English at the Sorbonne, discovering Stevenson, Shelley, Stoker, and Wells, and later took a degree in library science from the École Nationale Supérieure des Bibliothèques. In 1968, he embarked on a series of odd jobs—including antiques dealer and auto assembly line laborer—that comprised, in his words, an “apprenticeship in human nature,” cementing his sympathy for the marginal, outcast figures who would become his luckless, well-meaning, Everyman heroes and narrators. Grasset published his first collection in 1973, Le fou dans la chaloupe.

With novelist Hubert Haddad, and fellow Goncourt winners Frédéric Tristan and sinologist Jean Lévi, Châteaureynaud is a founding member of the contemporary movement La Nouvelle Fiction: “New” because it rose up against the prevailingly minimalist and confessional tendencies (autofiction) of recent French writing, seeking to rouse it from what critic Jean-Luc Moreau called “the slumber of psychological realism,” and to restore myth, fable, and fairy tale to a place of primacy in fiction.

In 1983 and 1990, Châteaureynaud was a representative of the Foreign Services Ministry to Quebec and then to Greece. He has been consistently involved with the Centre National du Livre and the SGDL (Société des Gens de Lettres de France). He plays an active part in fostering new talent, serving on the juries of such diverse prizes as the Fondation BNP-Paribas Young Writers Award, the international Prix Prométhée de la nouvelle, the Prix Renaudot, and the Prix Renaissance. Châteaureynaud sees his enthusiastic participation in these institutions as a way of repaying the literary community that has allowed him the luxury of dedication to his craft. An Officier des Arts et Lettres of France, he is currently the editorial director of foreign literature at Editions Dumerchez. In 2006, he was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.

Edward Gauvin has published Châteaureynaud’s work in AGNI Online, The Southern Review, Conjunctions, Harvard Review, Words Without Borders, LCRW, Postscripts, Epiphany, The Café Irreal, Eleven Eleven, Sentence, and The Brooklyn Rail. A graduate of the Iowa Workshop, he has received a Fulbright grant as well as fellowships from the Centre National du Livre, the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) and the Clarion Foundation and residencies from the Maison des Écritures Midi-Pyrénées, Ledig House, and the Banff International Literary Translation Centre. Other translations of his have been featured or are forthcoming in PEN America, Tin House, Interfictions 2, Subtropics, Silk Road, Two Lines, and Absinthe. A consulting editor for graphic literature at Words Without Borders, he translates comics for Archaia, First Second, and Tokyopop. He has lived in Austin, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, New York, Taipei, and Amiens, France.

Cet ouvrage, publié dans le cadre d’un programme d’aide à la publication, bénéficie du soutien du Ministère des Affaires éstrangères et du Service Culturel de l’Ambassade de France aux Etats-Unis. This work, published as part of a program of aid for publication, received support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States.

This work, published as part of a program providing publication assistance, received financial support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States and FACE (French American Cultural Exchange).

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