Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Joe le Plombier

In a file cabinet in my attic I've found a stack of French reviews of Famous Potatoes, which over there was called Les Tribulations de Willy Crusoe. (Willy Crusoe was the name taken by the main character when he was on the lam from the law.)

All the French reviews make note of my college degree and my occupation of plumber. None of the USA reviews seemed to find it worthy of note.

Here's the one I was thinking of (sorry, I can't type the accents). The reviewer was comparing Famous Potatoes to a recent work of French literature written by somebody who evidently had never dirtied his hands:

En definitive, c'est peut-etre ce qui manque a notre literature: des etres ronds et sales, dont les reves seraient aussi les reves des ecrivains. Des etres capables de s'attendrir, non sur eux-memes (cela, nous n'en manquons pas), mais sur plus pauvre, plus desespere qu'eux.

Rich Amerique qui a encore de pareils vivants. Et des informaticiens-plombiers capables de les observer.

Pauvre Europe, ou les detenteurs de diplomes universitaires ne deviennent jamais errants, ou il n'y a plus ni plombiers, ni reveurs, ni racines. Et ou les livres ne retentissent que de mea culpa...

-Jean Vigneaux in Pourquoi Pas? March 25, 1982

My French is rusty, and I can't be sure there isn't an element of sarcasm in the text. But I think M. Vigneaux was praising my novel and, oddly, the earthy roots of American literature. Would anybody care to translate? What's your take?


  1. Joe,
    take some time and check thru Doug Stowe's Blog at checkout 20NOV08 entry

  2. Wow! I love this guy! Thanks for the link.

  3. As we say in my household, "Qu'il est français" (He is SO French!) of M Vigneaux. Nostalgie de la boue, anyone?

    I think it goes something like this:

    At the end of the day, maybe that's what is missing from our literature: grubby, well-rounded people whose dreams could also be writers' dreams. People who can pay attention not only to themselves (we don't lack those) but to those poorer, more desperate than they.

    Rich America! which still has such people. Along with computer scientist-plumbers who can observe them.

    Poor Europe! where those with university diplomas will never become wanderers, nor plumbers, nor dreamers, nor rooted. And where books resound with only mea culpas...

    (Mandarine could double-check that translation for us.)

    I think there's a je ne sais quoi about freedom and egalitarianism that America's wide open spaces suggest to Europeans, which is part of why Famous Potatoes intrigues them.

    Plus, you do tell a good story, Joe.


  4. Can you make a service call to my computer please?

    And what would you call that other plumber - Philip Glass - plombier-compositeur?
    Phil the Plumber

  5. Beats me. He worked as a cab driver for a while. Or are you referring to one of his compositions? I confess, I don't know a lot about him. I'm intrigued, now. What's the connection?

  6. Philip Glass earned his living for a while as a plumber and as an assistant to Richard Serra (at the time that Serra was making the poured lead pieces in the 90 degree crack between the wall and the floor.) I always imagined them being macho and pouring the lead together.

  7. Ah. I see a doctoral thesis up for grabs: The influence of plumbing in the expression of artistic endeavor as evidenced in the works of Glass, Cottonwood, and Wurzelbacher. Any takers?

    Thanks for the amplification. This is fun.

  8. I have nothing to add to the translation above.

    And I do feel that our contemporary writers tend to be all from the same haughty urban seam. When they try to write about 'real people' (i.e. not writers or artists), they have to make an awful lot of research. And when they want to write about 'real jobs' (meaning no disrespect, sir), they just can't.

  9. i am the daughter from jean Vigneaux..and yes my father have a lot of sarcasm but i´m sure that he like your novel..I´m sorry but my english ist not very good..i can try to translate when you want but it´will be a very approxamativ translate

  10. i´m the daugther from Jean vigenaux and my father was a very sarcastich mann but you can be sure that he liked your novels...i don´t translate the text because my english is very bad..i hope that i can help you

  11. Fabienne, I believe that your father was praising my novel and also praising the fact that I wasn't too proud to work with my hands. He was, in fact, praising the USA for accepting the writing of a plumber as a work of art. Also, I can tell from the excerpt that your father had a jaunty sense of humor. I wish I'd met him.

  12. Fabienne, je crois que votre père félicitait mon roman et félicitait également le fait que je n'étais pas trop fier de travailler avec mes mains. Il, en fait, félicitait les Etats-Unis pour accepter l'écriture d'un plombier comme travail d'art. En outre, je peux dire de l'extrait que votre père a eu un sens de l'humour désinvolte. Je souhaite que je l'aie rencontré. Peut-être un jour à la place je vous rencontrerai.