The Art of Wearing a Trench Coat immediately brings to mind that final scene in Casablanca when Rick, aka Humphrey Bogart, walks off into the rainy night alongside his frenemie, Captain Louie Renault (Claude Rains). That ubiquitous piece of clothing inspires the longest story in Sergi Pàmies’ book. In “I’m No One to Be Giving You Advice,” the narrator muses on his mother’s obsession with handsome men who included, besides Bogart, Robert Taylor, Albert Camus, Montgomery Clift, Yves Montand, George Sanders, and Jorge Semprún. “It took me over half a lifetime to realize the only common dominator among them was their confidence in donning a trench coat with unmistakable elegance,” he writes. His mother’s fascination with Semprún, the Spanish writer, politician, and film maker, so influenced the young man that he fantasized that his father was in fact Semprún.
The 13 stories touch on a variety of topics, each with a different tone. The first one, “Eclipse,” starts simply enough with a chance meeting at a cocktail party, but ends with a body floating in a pool. And not the person expected to meet such an untimely death. He examines divorce in “Outline of a Lecture for a Hypothetical Conference of Divorcees” with insight that resonates. Two of the stories deal with writing. In one, a man convinces his mother to use a dictaphone to record her life experiences, only to have the eventual manuscript rejected by publishers. (She’s never told.) In the second, a novelist spends his days at an airport, looking for inspiration.
In “Paternity,” Omar keeps his promise to teach his daughter Amira to drive, while also collecting his urine for a medical test. At the end, “he senses that Amira’s opinion of him has changed forever” – for the better. Whatever the medical test shows, he knows he can take it. In “Please,” another father helps his son with a film project by playing the dead body. A trip to the dog pound to get for his daughter and son a pet named “Belarus,” ends with the author musing that his family might fracture and he would find himself living with the dog alone.
In the final story, reaching the end of the book, the narrator wonders if he makes people happy, citing, of all things, Jimmy Durante’s version of the Jule Styne, Betty Comden, Adolph Green song featured in the Broadway musical Do Re Mi. “That’s what life is about,” he writes, “reduced to its maximally minimum expression.” The perfect ending to a wonderful collection.
The Art of Wearing a Trench Coat
Translated from the Catalan by Adrian Nathan West
Top photo Bigstock