136 pages, $16
A succinct description of Manuela Draegerâ€™sIn the Time of the Blue Ball (Three Post-Exotic Stories)would be:a childrenâ€™s cartoon about a bumbling detective, set in a postapocalyptic dream. With that out of the way, you should be prepared to hear about the fly orchestras and talking woolly crabs and mischievous fairy-like creatures that make up this lovely world created by Draeger, which is a pseudonym for Antoine Volodine, which is a pseudonym for someone unknown. We do know for sure that it was translated into English from French by Brian Evenson, with additional work by Valerie Evenson on the third story.
Our narrator is the bumbling detective himself, Bobby Potemkine. His first adventure is in the eponymous story, in which he searches for LiliSoutchanes, the man who created fire who is actually a woman, who wears â€œa red scarf around her neck and nothing else.â€ Fire hasnâ€™t been invented yet in this world, despite the fact that this is a nearly arctic country where their â€œsnouts were freezing.â€ Bobby says snouts and not noses so that his dog, Djinn, will understand. The â€œtime of the blue ballâ€ the title refers to is how they keep time in this world, by yellow, white, green, and blue â€œballs,â€ bubbles, and moons.
His investigation leads us to the introduction of the battes, the pirate fairies who taunt everyone they come across—one of whom, LiliNiagra (all women are called Lili), Bobby has had a crush on for years. They lead him to the sea, â€œwhere a big woolly crab does a trade in marshmallows.â€ Soutchanes is indeed hiding out there, but this world wonâ€™t find relief for their snouts, as sheâ€™s decided to pour the last jar of fire into the water become a batte.
â€œNorth of the Wolverinesâ€ is livelier and even more absurd, and better for it. Big Katz, the woolly crab, comes to Bobby with the case of AugusteDiodon, a vermicelli noodle who is being eaten by children. They decide to put together a petition to stop this terrible tragedy:
In the past, before running a gumball store, I think [Big Katz] organized protests. Against the cold, against the falling of meteors, against the division of the calendar in to blue balls, mauve balls, and yellow moons. But later, since none of these movements mobilized the crowd around him, he was retrained to run a sweet shop without customers, on the edge of the sea.
On their way to save the day, they befriend an ill-tempered, smelly tiger named Gershwin and once again run into the battes, who are able to direct them to where a little girl is about to sit down before a bowl of noodles near the wolverine factory (â€œTo be frank, I donâ€™t know why they wanted to manufacture wolverines in the factory, and I donâ€™t know either why later they stopped making wolverines,â€ Bobby explains). They make it in time, and Bobby summons Auguste by whispering his name, as instructed by LiliNiagra, and he comes out yelling about how important he is and storms out in a huff. The little girl goes on to eat her noodles.
The final story, â€œOur Baby Pelicans,â€ follows the same pattern. This time, there are baby pelicans that do not eat or make noise infesting the town. No one minds much, and theyâ€™ve taken them on as pets, but Bobbyâ€™s been entrusted with the investigation into who their mother is. The battes once again move along the investigation, and eventually the baby pelicans are entrusted to Soraya Gong, â€œthe most beautiful polar ratinette.â€
In these stories that are technically for adolescents (which you discover in the â€œPublisherâ€™s Noteâ€), one would expect to touch the ground at some point, but itâ€™s simply not there. Their tone calls to mind a hard-boiled detective story, but Bobby, governed by sentiment, is not a typical crime narrator. Though it all sounds so cute and gimmicky, there is nothing cloying about it. These are bizarre, touching, delightful—truly perfect dreams, but much richer.
Alicia Kennedy is a copy editor, yogi and amateur baker.