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"Book of Goose" by Yiyun Lee

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Growing up in the French countryside in the 1950s, the protagonist of Yi Yun Lee’s new novel is expected to marry young and have children good enough to run a family farm. Agnès Moreau hates her lack of potential, but what can she do?Her best friend Fabienne, who faces similar pressures, comes up with an idea for her. increase. What started out as a mischievous lark turns into an outrageous hoax, setting the girls on a vastly different course.

Eerie and intimate, “The Book of Goose” takes the form of a memoir written by an adult Agnès. She admires it because the title alludes to her geese, acting like “the world has no right to judge them”. I learned that he died. This causes Agnès to reflect on her intense early teenage years when Fabienne devised a “two-player game” that would change her life.

Fabienne is creative but sadistic. She torments a bird, strokes a dog, and then kicks “just to cherish the confused fear in the poor beast’s eyes.” Always looking for something transcendental to enjoy, Fabienne decided to co-create disturbing books — she invents the stories and Agnès transcribes them. With the help of the postman, they create a collection of stories about doomed children. The book finds a publisher, and at the urging of the sociopathic Fabienne, the relatively sophisticated Agnès agrees to pose as its sole author.

When the book was picked up in the newspapers, reporters described it as “American-occupied France was unimaginably insane and filthy after the war.” The girls’ charade spirals out of control when an opportunistic adult falls upon the author of that “child prodigy.” Agnès’ fame gets her enrolled in a fancy but ruthless British boarding school, where Fabienne is lonely and resentful, claiming the postman is a sexual predator. suggesting, but he is disgraced nonetheless.

Literary machinations drive its plot, but “The Book of Goose” is primarily about the lack of personal agency given to two very different girls and how it will determine their fates. Both want more than the village can provide, but until she writes a book, only Fabienne has some power in her interactions with adults because she scares them. The friendship takes a turn when the success of their book gives Agnès some control over her own future. Since John Knowles’ “Another Peace,” there have been novels that squeezed such drama from two teens standing opposite each other on a tree branch.

In prose stripped of unnecessary qualifiers and frills of any kind, Li successfully describes how a strong-willed sadist can coerce his colleagues into submission. Fabienne was destructive, but Agnès remains loyal as an adult. “We weren’t liars,” she wrote.

Kevin Canfield is a regular contributor to the Star Tribune’s book coverage.

goose book

To: Lee Yun Lee.

the publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, page 348. $28.