Olivier Bodart books, on the whites of the California desert

“Mute your existence” : this is the narrator’s obligation. Kirsty, his partner, is involved in a complicated divorce and she is not supposed to be a part of his life. The eclipse is its only horizon. Not easy: a census is underway, which he must submit before the end of March 2020. Obviously, he must provide any address other than where they live.

Pending judgment, he has since thoroughly removed from the Web the pictures in which we see them together, the activities that made them so similar. Kirsty is a photographer, she is a visual artist. An exhibition of his works, which was to be held in Chicago, has been canceled, as if life was responsible for giving him a helping hand in his self-care business. A “germ” actually appeared, and the state ordered containment. California also canceled its own. The census department seems unaffected by the pandemic, arriving every two days to knock on the door and drop off a form that the narrator pretends to let pile up on the threshold. There is no question of revealing his presence: a private detective could use it. Trapped in the house they just bought, Olivier, the narrator, revolves around his invisibility and his immobility.

Instead of disappearing here, appear somewhere else

Invisibility, immobility, loneliness. Kirsty had to go to another state and she found herself alone, hiding in her own home. This former Indian dwelling was enlarged by its former owners to make it a printing house. The couple wants to build an art school there. The location was carefully chosen: on the edge of the Sonoran Desert, not far from the Mexican border, a neglected area where educated city dwellers were beginning to invest, and where their project was well received. Everything will be fine if everything is not messed up. To the toxic husband and the failing university was added the obstinate census taker, the pandemic, and as a bonus an early heat wave. This is the moment Olivier chooses to have a brilliant idea. Instead of disappearing here, why not appear somewhere else?

Renting a small apartment, even a room, for a while, register there, that’s the solution. It’s not that easy, especially when travel is prohibited. A static clandestine, Olivier will become a mobile clandestine. There is no freeway. On the paths of the desert he left. erasure novel, After I’m in the desert doubles as a poverty novel. Olivier, away from his house, from his companion with whom he can only communicate when he leaves the “white zones”, begins a search in which he gradually throws himself into everything, starting from his own personality.

The stages of his itinerary are the stages of the introductory novel. The first disappointment is followed by an ordeal – a car accident – that sends him to another world, a real rewriting of the American dream in the form of destruction, excess, desertion. From revelation to revelation, his wanderings lead him to give birth to a fiction, which we do not know whether it is exorcism or punishment.

A static clandestine, Olivier will become a mobile clandestine. There is no freeway. On the paths of the desert he left.

The originality of After I’m in the desert is due first to the accuracy of the narrative’s entry into the geography of these back-spaces. Imaginary cities sold by fraudsters, polluted lakes deserted by vacationers, military bases abandoned by marginalized people, the unlikely “center of the world” in search of inhabitants, the not California is seen to be ahead. The trajectory of the narrator, forced to flee the direct line of the highway, runs along the plots at right angles, back to the squares of the plans for the future house. An entire geometry governs the novel, where orthogonality defies the sacred circle of the Indian universe. Was it not because of his attempt that Olivier found himself pushed out of his shelter? The text is thus constructed in a vertiginous network of letters. Note, for example, the transition from one material to another, marble, concrete, granite, ceramic. One will be attentive to the repeated play of typefaces and to the disappearance of the Clearview typeface under the eyes of the motorway “policeman”, a subtle reminder of the general “obscuration of vision”.

Olivier Bodart’s tour de force is to provide, in this tight framework, a very embodied story, based on a strong and fragile character, whose adventure is fascinating and worrying. A meditation on the novel without sacrificing the romantic.

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