The Dance of a Sham – Paul Emond (translated by Marlon Jones)

“To myself, very sincerely.” That’s some sort of dedication to open “The Dance of a Sham”, are we in for some narcissistic ramblings, 80 pages of self-indulgent rubbish? Let’s start off by revealing that “The Dance of a Sham” is one continuous 80 page sentence, therefore forcing the reader to become totally immersed in our protagonist’s thoughts during a single sitting.
Our story opens with our narrator telling us about his “buddy” and the special talent this person has for story telling:
…I liked it when he started telling stories, or just thinking out loud, he could talk like that for hours, he’d say i know I’m a talker but i can’t help it, chatting keeps me alive, and the reason he liked me so much was because he knew I was his best listener, it’s true that once he got started i could have listened forever, i would have followed him to the ends of the earth, and we’d take some fantastical paths, I’d follow all the way, then he’d take the bit between his teeth, his phrases came galloping along and you had to hang on tight, he’d cut his turns at an ever more frenzied pace, I’ll tell you some hodge, then tell you some podge, i start my stories hither and send them over thither, I didn’t let go for a second, I was always there listening to him tirelessly, I was like that guy on his donkey following a half-crazy knight around…
As the stream of consciousness rant continues we slowly learn that our narrator has been in jail, that he’s been adopted, his jail time for attempting to steal an old lady’s bag, but he didn’t snitch on his story telling mater, who we learn had actually hit the old lady, so he gets away scot-free
…but the surprising thing is how the more I tell my little life story, the more memories rise to the surface, it’s like vegetables in late summer, popping up all over the place, if it keeps going like that I’m going to get confused because it will be too much, but I realize I need to make an effort to organize all this, here I am galloping though my past in every direction and pretty soon you won’t make out head or tail of it, i was just a little kid when my dad gave me a big red top, when it was spinning it made a shrill whistling sound, it sounded like an alarm siren and I could play with that thing for hours, the amazing thing is you can never tell which way the top will go, it just turns like crazy, it doesn’t follow any law, see, it’s just a blind machine that follows its secret instincts, this top had strange yellow pictures on it and when it was spinning, the drawings turned into a big solid line that would grow wider or thinner depending on the speed, then came the moment when the top started to get twitchy on its point, you could tell the final tumble was coming and the siren got deeper, gloomy even, I could catch it and set it spinning again before it tumbled, but if I did, I always waited until the very last second, I let it go right up to the brink of disaster, and the last second is the most marvellous, it’s like when you’re out at dusk, night falls and you keep watching the landscape, in a little while you think you can still see but actually for a while already you haven’t been able to see a thing, you’ve gone over to the other side without realizing and all you’re doing there is imagining the landscape, it’s totally different….
Our tale here is the spinning top, it becomes “twitchy on its point”, it’s a “sham”, our “buddy” after forty three pages suddenly acquires a name, Caracala, and from them on it is a tale of instant distrust, the story teller is a “sham”. He’s not a story teller at all, he stutters, actually he’s a deaf mute, they were never friends, arch enemies, he ran away when they attacked the lady, he was grateful for our narrator not snitching on him, or they fought about it, depends what page you’re reading.
This is a story where fiction itself is ridiculed, we know there are people who have been killed (or have they?) was our narrator involved or is he a sham too? What is the truth, not just here on the page but in a broader sense, you haven’t really seen the horizon, you haven’t been able to see a thing for a while…
…some people love to be the detonators, it’s in their blood, they can smell drama simmering from a hundred miles away, so they come running at top speed, they come and ask if they can help out, I don’t like those people, they’ve got a real knack from bringing a problem into full bloom, watering it as needed, bringing the necessary fertilizer, then when it’s grown a little, planting it in adequate soil, tying it to a stake, clipping its side branches regularly to keep it growing straight up towards the sky, so it grows into a particularly robust and vigorous problem, and one day it can stand without a stake, you can’t control it anymore, it starts mocking you, bending this way and that, making more and more shade, like the tree you plant in front of your window without realizing, and the room gets darker and darker, gloomier and gloomier, dampness creeps in, the wallpaper starts blistering, every day a little more peels off, mold and fungus starts growing in all the corners, cracks start spreading across the ceiling, then that gardener with the green thumb for misery sits down and surveys his work with a nasty look, sneering, beware of those people….
An interesting tale, and an easy read (even though it is only a single sentence), the tricks of fiction and the reality from fantasy becoming increasingly blurred as we travel further into our un-named narrator’s story…or does he have a name, he refers to one late in the book, however is that fantasy or fiction?
…one day I was going to be face-to-face with my truth, all this fog swirling around my life would fade away, my existence would be wonderfully clear, there would be no more lying…
With slight references to Cervantes  “Don Quixote” (as you can see in a quote above) and  Laurence Sterne’s “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman”, do we also have homage? The diversions, the rambling digression, continual references to “hanky-panky”, humour and ridicule. Is our writer ridiculing the ridiculers?
…but his answers were full of contradictions, the more he explained, the more muddled and upset he got, and in the end he wouldn’t say another word, well from then on I lost whatever trust I still had in him…
Do you lose all trust in the self-indulgent narrator of this tale? You’ll have to read it yourself to figure that one out…

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