Coda by Rene Belletto – The Notion and Motion of Time

Rene Belletto~France

I set the perpetual motion machine in motion again, it had stopped (something that never would have happened had Anna been there), and I was pleased to see the seascape light up and come to life within its aquarium–the fleecy waves, the shadows gliding along the shore–without any part of the system running on batteries or connected to an electric outlet of any kind.

Rene Belletto’s Coda is one of those novels that could frustrate with all its possible meanings, messages and puzzling pieces that somehow add up to a whole.  The pieces of this story happen in a linear order, and seem logical as opposed to illogical, but then there is something askew about them, slightly off-balance.  Somewhere during the novel, I began to feel Belletto’s dreamy logic encompass me, make me feel as if I were seeing the events of the novel play out before in a blurry sequence.  And like a dream, parts were so real even though I knew that they couldn’t be.  Reading Belletto is like lucid dreaming – the perfect intersection of fantasy and reality.

The narrator is unnamed.  The style is detached.  The language is simple, almost plain.  All of these elements, like any master of the surreal, serve as counter-agents to the reader’s disbelief.  The narrator, a father living in Paris with a young daughter Anna, has lost his wife.  He is a well-off man who, heeding his father’s deathbed request, brought to fruition his plan for a perpetual motion machine.  With trial and error and much of his own ingenuity, the narrator succeeds and constructs a successful business selling the almost perpetual motion machines consisting of spiral and balls that has to be restarted once a day.  This idea of the motion of time becomes the construction for the story and it’s odd fragmented flow events that spring form the mundane. 

Beginning with a package of frozen clams, a mystery begins:

I had to face facts: while I was away someone had some into my house and placed a package of Marty Frigor clams in my freezer.

As ridiculous as this seems, it is presented so soberly, that reader doesn’t hesitate to accept this, only perhaps wonder what it may signify in deeper terms. On the package is a name, Marc Kram, whom the narrator knows as an old school friend.  After he contacts Marc and they reconnect, Marc invites him to a party.  The narrator meets a woman, Marthe, who is beautiful but a friend to no one at the party and apparently only seen by narrator with whom she conversed. At this party, the narrator is also given the information of Marc’s half-sister, Agathe, that once held the narrator’s interest.  When the narrator meets Marthe again, the reader is given enough information to think that there is an otherworldly quality to her, and one that is neither concretely good or evil.  She delivers bits of conversation like this to our unsuspecting narrator:

“You’re theory is perfect.  ‘Death, fate’s faithful servant…’ Tired of being nothing but a spirit, I wanted to incarnate myself in the body of a mortal woman at the risk … at the risk of meeting you,” she said softly.

As the events become stranger and more threatening – Anna is kidnapped and the narrator is led to believe it is the work of child traffickers – the pace, the motion of the plot powers along at a clipped tempo, never stopping for the consideration of the characters of the reader.  A brilliant tactic by Belletto. 
The denouement is thrilling and it feels, like in life when something is that thrilling, that time sped up.  And once the feeling fades, the questions that plague humanity’s relationship with time arise: What does our time on earth mean, if anything? What does time that has gone by, the past, mean to each of us now?  In the infinitum of existence, what does our life represent?
Belletto himself can’t help but chronicle the narrator’s thoughts about existence and time:

Where had all the dead, present and past, gone?  Had they been lost to oblivion? Had they never existed? And how would people recount their history from now on, the histories of their families, their countries, or the history of the world?

Of course Belletto can’t answer these questions or many of the others that he raises, but it is difficult to not be enchanted by this book whether it is fantasy, mystery, noir or literary.  Yet it is mesmerizing and believable as a dream had during a short afternoon nap that occupies our mind for the rest of the day.  And like the titles points out, we wake again the next day to see how our life in motion will affect our dreams and vice-verse.


By Rene Belletto
Translated by Alyson Waters
Bison Books, French Voices
Paperback, 69 pp.
ISBN: 9780803224414

Other works by Rene Belletto:

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