December 2008

Elizabeth Bachner

nonfiction

Report on Myself by Grégoire Bouillier

First, a disclaimer: I was one of those readers who loved Grégoire Bouillier’s The Mystery Guest. No breakup book is more succinct or reassuring. The only thing worse than being rejected or dumped is being inexplicably, mysteriously and suddenly rejected or dumped by someone whose modus operandi you will never, ever understand, even if you convert to a new religion just so you can pray for an explanation -- and, no matter how bruising or brutal your own situation might be, the one Bouillier describes is more irritating. Just reading about it is pure liberation.

Report on Myself is an equally succinct, but less accessible, book. It’s a family memoir that trots out every Freudian nightmare you can imagine -- Bouillier always seems to be catching a glimpse of his suicidal mother’s vagina or her “little breasts” sagging through her shirt. His parents are pervs, his brother is a perv, his various girlfriends are pervs, and Bouillier himself goes into fugue states and finds himself clutching severed chunks of the other schoolchildren’s scalps when he comes to in the playground. Taboos are ripped apart right and left.

On top of that, there are strange intellectual miracles -- the young Grégoire kisses a girl, which leads him to have a breakthrough in understanding the Rule of Three, which leads him to see the whole world as “nothing but a rule of three, which I would solve frenziedly, at every moment… If my first flirtation had revealed the rule of three to me, what kind of discovery could I expect when I made love? And what if it were with two women?... Suddenly everything seemed connected, participating in an essential totality that recomposed over and over, despite barriers, separations, and appearances; I would have had to work like a dog for a long time to understand the rule of three if its secret hadn’t been part of this. From that day on, I knew that you never come face to face with anything, because everything is smoke and mirrors, the condensation of something else, a problem of algebra or the heart.” And then there’s his discovery of The Odyssey, “the very miracle I needed… which I read in a single, transfigured night… Every verse seemed to be written for me and infused itself in me, flowing through my eyes and my ears. I was the reading itself. Or rather, it was The Odyssey that was figuring me out.”

Report on Myself is a lovely cure for the American memoir -- if you’re just sick to death of everybody incessantly recovering from their families and becoming empowered and finding a voice and becoming whole and everything else Oprah is all about -- if you’re tired of being jerked off to a happy ending even by stuff that’s supposed to be dark (Running with Scissors, etc) --Bouillier’s resolutely kinky, deadpan and un-transcendent autobiography is for you. Also, there’s something of Camus about him, although I can’t pigeonhole exactly what -- is it the succinct thing, or the shaky existentialism, or the Frenchness, or the Algerianness, or the weird, loner sex appeal? 

“No one could evict me from The Odyssey,” writes Bouillier, “…A church without a priest for a religion revealed to me alone… I’d never needed to take legal or illegal drugs (aside from tobacco). My antiquity is a more hallucinogenic substance -- it’s always a matter of inventing your own god, a form of sublimation for yourself alone. Should someone else think of making The Odyssey his god, I’d have to change religions. Even at the worst moments, my life has never disappointed me. I had found my formula.”

Report on Myself is filled with the kind of strange, private, utterly unique revelations that each of us has in life, but that are almost impossible to write about. It’s the kind of book you’ll want to roll around on your tongue, rereading sections from its 148 pages. Like The Mystery Guest, it’s hilarious, and like The Mystery Guest, it’s curative, medicinal somehow, something you administer to yourself in a time of need. With this one, though, I can’t figure out the exact details of the medicine. I’d rather read Report again a couple of times than review it. Bouillier had the idea that his life wouldn’t really start until he turned forty, or “fortyish,” because the word almost rhymes with “aureus,” which refers to a rash he’d had since he was four (“When I realized that my existence was structured by language, I continued to be devastated”), so maybe Report is a salve for turning forty, the way The Mystery Guest is a quick solution to rejection. I’ll continue to test Bouillier in various doses. I suggest swallowing this one whole and waiting for side effects.

Report on Myself by Grégoire Bouillier
Mariner Books
ISBN: 061896861X
176 Pages