In the Time of the Blue Ball is the tip of an iceberg. Translated by Brian Evenson, this book is a collection of three stories from Manuela Draegerâ€™s ten story catalog featuring Bobby Potemkine, a hapless quasi police officer assigned to supremely confused and exhausted cases. But Manuela Draeger is only the pen-name of author Antoine Volodine, and Volodine only the pseudonym for a French author who secrets his name away. Draeger is also a character in Volodineâ€™s other books, â€œa librarian in a post-apocalyptic prison camp who invents stories to tell to the children in the camp.â€ Iceberg indeed.
As with Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss before her, Manuela Draeger materializes new phrases and places from nothing and inside of fresh and vastly imaginative stories. The reader is brought through these invented worlds via Potemkineâ€™s investigator lens as he tracks the disappearance of the inventor of fire, the constantly reoccurring murder of a noodle named Auguste Diodon, and the case of the baby pelicans who, without mothers, quietly plague the cityscape:
A baby pelican is not cumbersome. With a bit of string, you can hang one around your neck. It will sway in rhythm with your feet, very well-behaved, very cute, without ever burping or whining or leaving any droppings. Therefore, there is no reason to complain about them. But in the end itâ€™s rather unusual to find yourself taking care of this little pelican while its mother is elsewhere, off in who knows what mysterious elsewhere.
Draeger skips and hops language across the pages, drifting us underneath mounds of glorious new domains where woolly crabs house sapphire blue commas of hair on their bellies, all women are first-named Lili, all men Djinn, dogs talk, battes lead the way, flies play imagined orchestra instruments, and every creature, even Potemkin himself, has some â€œsadness to cultivateâ€:
I had finished my investigation, and I should have felt proud for having done my best, but at that moment, I had above all the impression of finding myself alone. Everyone was there, still within earshot or nearly, but I felt very alone.
Even in the plots of these stories Manuela Draeger canâ€™t help but deliciously tinker words into newness: the inventor of fire was simply living elsewhere and convinces Potemkine to help destroy the last remnants of flame; Auguste Diodon is finally saved from the noodle bowl but is brash and ungrateful; and the baby pelicans, though they are happy with their new mother, leave Potemkine feeling empty and lost:
I started to move again.
For a moment, I walked in a circle on Soraya Gong, from east to west, under the moon, listening to the distant murmur of the waves. Djinnâ€™s yelps, the laughter of the battes from incalculable heights. Then I went home.
We read because we are seeking extraordinary words, and Draegerâ€™s words are exactly that, extraordinary. We are extremely lucky that this volume has reached us non-French speakers in the skin of the Dorothy Publishing Project and I am, as you will be when you read this book, absolutely hungry for more of all that is In the Time of the Blue Ball.
In the Time of the Blue Ball is available from Dorothy Publishing Project.
J. A. Tyler is the author three books including A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed from Fugue State Press. His reviews have appeared with The Nervous Breakdown, The Colorado Review, & Rumpus. For more, visit: chokeonthesewords.com.