ROBERT LOWELL defined art as "beauty and pain mixed." Anne Dandurand's third collection - her first to be published in English - consists of eight stories, each a painfully exquisite, mysterious work of art.
Deathly Delights is death and desire in the'90s, when women, too, commit crimes of passion and (in Dandurand's world, anyway) get away with it. But these are stories about love, too, in all its guises. In "Needless Fires" a man who frequents a new bar every night asks to join a single woman at her table. She asks, "What is love?" The man doesn't reply:
He thinks about the woman he loves, her unbroken cry when he enters her, her gaze filtered and shining, revealing its depths .... her sinuous salamander belly, her crackling sex, her way of biting his hand between his thumb and forefinger, her clear morning smile. He thinks about the woman he loves and has doubts about himself. What does he know about love? He doesn't say anything, and the woman purses her lips triumphantly at his silence.
Readers who are prepared to enter Dandurand's fictional dream might find their own lives becoming as entangled as her characters'; often, you feel, you are ,risking your life by reading these stories. "Inside Killer," a sinister and erotic tale presented as a series of journal entries, will have you checking the lock on your front door, as well as your basement windows. "When you lock your room from the inside, no one can get in," writes the mysterious Blanche Bellemare, who lives alone and has a manic passion for porcelain dolls. When Blanche comes home from work one day, her radio has been turned off. In the night someone switches off the fluorescent lights in the bookcase where she keeps her doll collection; the next evening, she finds a pair of black silk stockings attached to a garter belt, laid out like the open legs of a woman. She moves to a hotel, but even here she finds her clothes soiled and ripped. Her boss is mysteriously strangled. Blanche wonders if it is her lover, who went out for milk eight years ago and never came back:
"He" came again last night. My dolls were moved. The three Bye-Lo dolls were strung up by their feet. My little Brue, so cute in her flowered hat, was floating in the toilet. The Frozen Charlottes were lined up like slices of bacon in the frying pan. The eighteen Pierrots were drowning in the garbage can among greasy bits of paper and carrot scrapings.
Ultimately we are checking not only our locks, but our mirrors as well. For Dandurand leaves us with the discomforting feeling that it is ourselves from whom we have the most to fear.
Only a deliciously criminal mind (or a decadently imaginative one) could have conceived of a story like "Exit the Ex" (hats off to Luise von Flotow, too, for such a stunning translation). Nina has split up with her lover, Christophe, and moved into an adjoining downstairs apartment. Nina spends her time listening to heavy rock music, spitting on Christophe's doorstep, and plaguing him with telephone calls. When he goes away for a week he returns to find her cat, Eustache, rotting in his bed. Nina begs Christophe to meet her one last time, and when he enters her apartment she hands him a knife, just like one of his own. Her place has been trashed, she is naked and mortally wounded, and one of his unpublished musical scores is painted on her back.
Christophe goes to jail after trying to run away. Lieutenant Mongeau believes that Christophe is too clumsy to be the killer, until the carefully orchestrated evidence Nina has left behind begins to pile up. Dandurand manipulates the situation so that you fear and sympathize with Christophe, while fearing and admiring Nina.
Lieutenant Marc Mongeau appears in other stories, most prominently in "Lost Hearts Salon." Three men are found electrocuted in completely different circumstances, the only link being, Marc discovers, that their three unhappy girlfriends all get their hair done at the Lost Hearts Salon. Marc books an appointment, and falls in love with the hairdresser, Adrienne - an enchantress whose spiked hair makes her look like an insect - as she manicures his nails. His passion cools, though, when he sees, beside the cash register, a machine used for copying keys.
The plot, as in all Dandurand's stories, not only thickens at this point, it becomes spicier and richer. Marc makes a date with Adrienne and goes to her apartment, where he finds that she raises and tames spiders. "But they devour their males," Marc says. When Adrienne replies, "Only the ones who don't bring them gifts," Marc is well on his way to solving his murder mystery.
Read these stories at your own risk, and delight!