“Missed opportunities”: absent fathers, marked daughters

Fathers, Betty had three. The good guy, says the “trombonist”, an Italian who died ten years earlier, the bad guy, says “the pig”, and the biological father, who died so early in his life that she never felt anything else for him that ‘a form of pity.

And for Martha, Betty’s best friend, the narrator – both are 40 years old – the record is hardly better. Even if she seems to have done better: Martha has been in a relationship with the same man for a few years and, stuffed with hormones, has a series of assisted reproduction sessions and miscarriages.

On the maternal side, do not worry, here too the accounts are in the red.

In Hamburg, it is Martha’s father who is dying of cancer and who asks his daughter for a final favor: to drive him to Switzerland, where he would have made an appointment for an assisted suicide.

But the fourth novel by the German Lucy Fricke, the first to be translated into French – Missed opportunities (Daughters, girls in German), a great success in Germany, and which has recently been adapted to the cinema -, will take the form of a spectacular off the road …

A little reluctantly accepting to accompany her friend (Martha has not driven since a road accident), Betty sees it as an opportunity to finally go to the grave of her former trombonist stepfather in a small village. south of Rome, Italy. In “this valley of tears” that her mother made her cross, he is the one with whom she lived a good part of her childhood and the only one, above all, to have loved her like her own daughter.

Dysfunctional, absent, fired or soaked fathers? All of the above, of course. The three crippled will take the road at the wheel of the old Kurt Golf in the direction (or perhaps not) of a clinic in Switzerland.

For the two old accomplices – so close and so desperate that they once thought of getting married… together – this unforeseen trip is the occasion for a mid-term review. It is the occasion especially for Betty, writer who runs on alcohol and antidepressants, which she will quickly miss during their mop, to distill at every turn her biting irony. “At forty, we no longer really had a taste for surprises. We were too tired to seek adventure. […] We had become accustomed to the minute mourning that went along with this fatigue. “

The adventure, however, will take care of diverting them from their route to take them along dirt roads full of potholes. From Rome to Berlin, passing through Hamburg and Switzerland, then through Genoa (and its scent of the sea, “a mixture of loac and freedom”) and the Greek islands, the novel quickly turns into a tragicomedy in which the parent-child relationship is completely turned over.

Let’s say it, Missed opportunities is crossed from start to finish by a light and completely jubilant cynicism. Like humor – and like alcohol, which the protagonists abuse -, it is here a measure of protection, a social lubricant, a small bandage.

Even if the story gets bogged down a bit at times, the writing is exemplary efficiency. And despite the rather dark tone of the themes that feed her book – aging, assisted suicide, bereavement, infertility – Lucy Fricke infuses each page with a humor that is as intelligent as it is irresistible.

Missed opportunities

★★★ 1/2

Lucy Fricke, translated from German by Isabelle Liber, Le Quartanier, Montreal, 2021, 288 pages

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