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In the Time of the Blue Ball

In the Time of the Blue Ball - Manuela Draeger Oh. My.This collection of three novellas (published as separate books in France) is the American debut, I think, of "Manuela Draeger," one of the other pseudonyms of "Antoine Volodine." In their simple sentences and primary-colored events, they're children's books. Except they're set in what might as well be a different universe. Draeger makes Dr. Seuss look like a realist.It's a nighttime world, before calendars are invented, before fire; meteorite showers are common. Yet the narrator Bobby Potemkine lives on the seventh floor of an apartment building, and his friends live behind the vegetables in the minimart or next to the abandoned RER station. The police have disappeared, leaving Bobby to investigate bizarre cases. The three cases here (the first in an ongoing series) concern the disappearance of the woman who invented fire, the rescue of a noodle named Auguste Diodon from a child's lunch, and an outbreak of baby pelicans with no mothers to tend to them.You know how it is: "Ever since the rain of black meteorites this winter, baby pelicans have been parked in the streets, the houses, the stores, on the twisted rails of the RER, and their mothers are nowhere to be found. ... After a while, someone always leans down to stroke them and talk to them, and ask them if they have any news of their pelican-mothers. The baby pelicans don't answer. They remain mute and make no movement. And you don't end up getting the slightest information out of them."Bobby's friends and helpers include his dog, Djinn, a virtuoso on the noctiluphe, a wooly crab named Big Katz, and a tiger or large tiger-striped cat named Gershwin. His school-days crush on the batte Lili Niagara still makes him blush whenever he hears the clippeting of the tips of her wings. Gershwin threatens to eat Bobby, Djinn marries and moves away, and Big Katz brings a flood of ocean wherever he goes: the usual gumshoe problems.The translations by Brian Evenson (one in collaboration with his daughter) are excellent; the vocabulary, odd as it is, never feels unnatural. It's a gorgeous little book, too, and the publisher (Danielle Dutton, as "Dorothy, a publishing project") wants to prompt more translations of Draeger and of Volodine. It's hard for me to imagine that not happening, once people experience this gem.