LANGUAGE, of the taut, lyrical variety, is the star of Marie-Claire Blais's Pierre (Oberon, 133 pages, $25.95 cloth, $12.95 paper), a disconcerting novel about bikers and teenage thugs translated from the French by David Lobdell and Philip Stratford.
Blais's compelling first-person narrative puts the reader deep inside Pierre's twisted personality. He's a garrulous 16-year-old American, full of venom for the middle-class ways of his parents and sisters. In the style of confessional literature, Pierre bluntly reveals his private ambitions in the first paragraph:
I was a man of my time ... in that springtime I gave myself up to my all-consuming passion,... I became a soldier, a god, eager to succumb to the delirium of armed combat....
Light reading this book is not. Pierre breaks with his family and joins a gang of rampaging bikers. Along with skinheads and punks from Europe and Canada, the biker gang is directed by the Great Brain, "the god of force," towards a final act of destruction against aristocrats living on the Gold Coast. Pierre falls in love with Stone, a woman well beyond tough, who also satisfies the sexual needs of the gang leaders Gravedigger, the Rat, and Gorilla.
In this novel, Blais delivers an onslaught of language that will test the stamina of many readers. Pierre is best digested in small, rich chunks. Still, it's a reminder that long after Edmund Wilson praised her early work, MarieClaire Blais remains a dark and unique - if somewhat neglected - voice.