Annie Ernaux’s Do What They Say or Else is a matter-of-fact coming of age story set in Normandy, France, in the late 1960s. It’s not sweet or sentimental. It’s straightforward and refreshing. Simple and profound.
Anne is 15 and a half, bored, disgusted by her parents, and intensely curious about sex. Sounds about right. She is suffering through the summer before she starts high school. This is the summer she begins to leave her parents behind and experiment with being an adult. She has secrets, which she is happy to share with the reader, but not with her parents. Smart decision.
One secret is “if I had to die, in a war for example, I would throw myself at the first guy who came along.” So would I. She is wise and makes keen observations – such as perverts start to “come out in March like the primroses.” Or this one about her parents: “you have to keep your mouth shut all the time so you won’t hurt their feelings.” She has just read Camus’ The Stranger and is deeply affected. She would love to discuss the book with her parents, but she knows they will not find that normal.
Like all teenagers, Anne is cynical but also naive. “There must come a day when everything is clear, when everything falls into place.” If only. Anne is a wonderful narrator because she’s curious about everything and insightful. She is every 15 year old I remember being, and it is fascinating to listen to her as she navigates to adulthood. “Curiosity is normal at my age: it would be strange if that wasn’t the case, except that for girls, curiosity can lead to anything, and it’s frowned upon.” Anne ain’t wrong.
Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor
the ceilings have ears
and eyes are in every wall.
Argus hides in the cloud spying
on your Uncle Sam bobble doll,
which nods nervously on the dash
looking for a place to crawl.
And if Argus spies it
then she spies you
because no one accuses
you of being small.
Everything you hide is a peepshow
behind a thin glass wall.
Every lewd whisper and Judas kiss
is recorded for instant recall.
But Denise -
Denise denies it all.
Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief
Hallmark has nice sentiments,
but they meander the gentle slopes
of meadows laced with buttercups
pollinated by crisp dollar bills.
And we are too smart for the platitudes
of enterprises that print treacle for profit.
At least that's what William and Mary say.
Though they annually ask us for money,
so they would say that anyway.
There is also no denying the obvious:
we have been lucky - so far.
Though we have stumbled on rocky trails,
slipped on slick foothills
and blundered over blue ridges,
we've never had to scale the Himalayas.
So while there have been obstacles,
we have overcome them hand in hand.
But perhaps that is simply
the Hallmark card in me speaking -
the one that blithely assumes
our journey has been one and the same.
Maybe your path has been different.
Maybe you climb Himalayan peaks everyday.
Maybe I am being foolish and insecure.
But that exhausted look on your face
suggests you ran uphill for miles today
while I walked meters on smooth linoleum.
Then there are these scattered scraps of paper -
fuzzy phrases that spawn insipid poems
parading my mostly muddled thoughts on everything.
You can find them everywhere.
And then there's you.
Furtively writing in a diary
I can never find.
And I have looked everywhere.
Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief
First published in Blue Lake Review