Fiction Collective Two is an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction.

Return to Manure

Return to Manure

Return to Manure
by Raymond Federman

Quality Paper
2006
Price: $19.95

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Return to Manure is Raymond Federman’s thirteenth novel, a surfictional collage of remembrance and expectation. Through an interplay of conversations between the narrator (Raymond Federman), his wife, and an unnamed listener, readers are privy to the twisting of the author’s—or is it merely a character’s?—experiences. After hiding in a closet as a teenager in 1942 to escape the Nazis, Federman finds his way to a distant relative’s farm in Vichy, France. He soon realizes he is unwanted there and spends the remainder of the war as an unpaid provincial laborer. On the farm, he confronts life at its most raw, witnesses suffering and death, sex and reproduction, and shovels lots of manure. Sixty years later in the United States, Federman wrestles with both nostalgia and bitterness:


"All this makes me wonder if perhaps the farm hadn’t become my real home, the place where I was born, well reborn after my childhood was tragically interrupted, and if now as I grow older I am yearning to be back there. To do what? Shovel manure? Sleep in the barn with the cows? Re-suffer what I suffered?"


The aging narrator finally returns to France with his wife to find the farm where he slaved as a youth, but he no longer knows why he has come or what to expect.


Federman, with anger-tinged humor, explores and celebrates the fragility of human memory. Through simultaneous revelation of past and present, he manipulates common conceptions of time, folding narrative back upon itself in an endless attempt to recover a past that was always half-fiction. With Return to Manure, Federman reinvents the novel once again, seducing us with dreams we know better than to believe but can never seem to doubt.


"There are few books that express their authors with such immediacy and naturalness. Although the events are gritty and the core of the book is tragedy, Federman displays the resilience and wit of a tough and intelligent artist, able to show his world in unexpected and marvelous lights." —The Compulsive Reader


"You come away from this book feeling that you've been reading one of the giant literary creations of our own era ."—American Book Collector


"A masterful, entirely fascinating accomplishment which will bear several readings, leaving one in high expectations of Federman's next book."—American Book Collector


"A most rare accomplishment: a true experimental novel. As a casual conundrum of intellectual delight or as a serious statement about the nature and implications of fiction. Federman's book is a signal achievement."—Contemporary Literature


"To Federman's credit, his continuing narrative refiguration of the tragic ironies of his own personal history has served him well in his career. Like his friend and one-time mentor, the late Samuel Beckett, Federman has figured out a way to turn redudancy into a virtue." —The Buffalo News


Excerpt


We did wonder Federman since
you’re driving to Cannes
if you would stop by the farm on the way.


Yes, of course we are driving. We love the narrow French roads bordered by sweeping arches of tall ancient trees. And yes, we are going to try to find the farm where I slaved when I was a kid during the war.

We love the French cows in the meadows who look at the tourists with dumb eyes while masticating their cuds. They look like they’ve been painted there just for our pleasure.


Here take a look at this photo.


Oh, oh, those are donkeys. Well, same thing, they look just as dumb as the cows. I have the picture of the cows somewhere.


And we love les petits restaurants de campagne where you can stuff yourself with delicious pâtés, fromages, sauces, crPme caramel, and le vin du pays.


We are driving a Renault Mégane deluxe silver gray grand comfort that will go up to 200 kilometers an hour, I’m not kidding, my usual speed on the damn autoroutes.


I say damn because every ten kilometers there is a péage – toll, in case the word is not yet in your French dictionary.


The French love to invent new words for every situation so they don't have to use foreign words. Especially not English words. That's how xenophobic they are.


Do you know that at one time it was a crime in France to use an English word? You had to pay a fine if you were caught using un de ces barbarismes Anglo-Saxon.


I think it was De Gaulle, when he was president, who passed that law. Or maybe it was Giscard D’estaing. They both suffered extreme linguistic chauvinism. It was insane.


People were denouncing other people who used English words instead of the official invented French word.


For instance, if you said le parking instead of le stationnement, or the side door instead of la porte latérale to refer to the door that leads to the patio of your house, you would be denounced by your neighbor. I witnessed such a case in 1966 when I was in Paris. Le dénonceur got a reward of 50 francs. Le coupable had to pay 300 francs. The nation made 250 francs profit in the deal. Call that linguistic shrewdness.


But back to the autoroute. Do you know what a traffic jam is called here. Un bouchon. Yes, a cork! And when the traffic is moving normally, they say fluide. There are electric signs all over the roads to tell you if you’re fluid or not.


I tell you, sounds like all the French automobilists either suffer of constipation or diarrhea, depending on the condition de la circulation sur l'autoroute.


> This is not going to be
another story about shit, is it? <


Depends on how the story goes. You know farm stories have a tendency to be full of manure.


But back to the signs on the autoroute. The best sign is the one you see on main roads that have a little side lane for you to stop in case your car breaks down. They call it voie de détresse. Imagine that. When a Frenchman's car breaks down, the driver suffers a crisis of distress, and he has to stop in la voie de détresse to recover.


Excuse the digressions. I feel incurably digressive these days. I just wanted to give you a sense of how educational it is to drive in France.


But, look, I suppose the French have to protect their linguistic stature in the world. Otherwise they would be swallowed up by the English language as so many other countries have been this past century. Take Japan for instance. Well, you’ve been there. Walking in the streets of Tokyo is like walking into an English dictionary full of typos.


So it’s understandable that the French should at least try to protect their language since, as revealed recently in USA Today, the economy of the State of California is now greater than that of France.


California is in 4th place, France in 5th, in the world economy. America, of course, is 1st, Germany 2nd, Japan 3rd. All this makes no difference to me, but the French really care.


If France had allied itself totally and openly with the Third Reich during World War II, if France had jumped in bed with Hitler, instead of doing it hypocritically under the covers, so to speak, it would not have tumbled into 5th place in the world economy, because after America had wiped out la Belle France, then it would have rebuilt it, as it did Germany and Japan, and certainly France would now be in 2nd place in terms of its economy. Second because we Americans love French things. French fries, French toast, French perfumes, French cheeses, French wines, French lingerie, French kisses, French girls, and especially the French countryside.


When you’re driving in France, your wife, or whoever is sitting next to you, shouts every ten minutes, oh look at that beautiful château lB-haut sur la colline.


I think the French ought to be more accepting of English words. It might help their economy and their position in the world.