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The International Writers Magazine
:Bokk Review

translated from the French by Adriana Hunter
Penguin Books, 2004, 160 pp. ISBN: 0-14-200495-2
A Charlie Dickinson Review

In several respects, HOW I BECAME STUPID by Martin Page resembles another short French novel reviewed here earlier this year: HAPPY DAYS by Lauren Graff. Both novels feature young protagonists called Antoine caught up in a spiritual crisis.

In the latter, 35-year-old Antoine decides to go directly to an old folks' home for the rest of his life. In HOW I BECAME STUPID, 25-year-old Antoine concludes to think is to suffer, a twist on the familiar assertion of Rene Descartes. For Antoine, intelligence is the source of unhappiness. He embarks on a series of hilarious strategies to make himself stupid and possibly happy.

Parisian Antoine's first stop in his quest for stupid bliss is a time-honored standby: the neighborhood bar. Inside, he finds a regular with eleven drinks lined up on the counter and decides this, for sure, is one pro. He asks Leonard for coaching to become an alcoholic. After Leonard realizes Antoine is no hallucination, they get to work and soon an ambulance takes Antoine away. Antoine's allergic to alcohol.

The rest of our hero's odyssey is more of these hilarious misadventures, backfiring attempts to cripple his cerebral capacity. The friends who cross Antoine's path in his quest are unfailingly memorable. As an infant, close friend Aaslee was given baby food with extra phosphorus--he has glowed in the dark ever since. Another friend shows up as a ghost, but since the friend is still alive, the ghost explains he is a premature ghost who only appears when the friend is asleep. Four of Antoine's friends kidnap him, all wearing Albert Einstein masks. Moreover, the splendid details of Martin Page's satire move the narrative along smartly. In one small victory, Antoine is able to toss aside his Gallic reservations and sit down and enjoy a Deluxe Meal at McDonald's, "eating a French fry without thinking about the bloodstained history of the potato, the human sacrifices that the Aztec civilization made in its name, and the appalling suffering it visited on the Irish."
But in the main, Antoine's grasping for happiness--whether by alcohol, by pharmaceuticals, or by other desperate means--goes nowhere, down yet another cul-de-sac. Antoine even becomes filthy rich, with all the trappings of success, but he utterly fails to enjoy any of it. With setback after setback, Antoine learns Life's elusive happiness, when it visits him, now and then, graces him despite his best efforts, not because of them or Happyzac pills! The four friends--Ganja, Charlotte, Aaslee, and Rodolphe--he'd rejected when seeking a fresh start, return. They know Antoine is losing it, and do an intervention. And once his four friends patch him up, Antoine finds Clemence, a young woman with the imaginative chops to match his. They are an instant item.

What Martin Page has fashioned here is a hilarious satire about focus on the self and self-improvement (a bit of BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY) that doesn't pan out. Instead, the old verities are invoked. Friendship that forgives personal folly. Imagination that transcends our cerebral Cuisinarts. And acceptance of the happenstances that so much of life remains. Read HOW I BECAME STUPID for a wry account told with imaginative prowess of one young man's stumbling towards self-acceptance.
© Charlie Dickinson Jan 2005
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