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Cruel Tales from the 13th Floor

Luc Lang; Donald Nicholson-Smith (Translator)

University of Nebraska Press, 2015

In sixteen ferocious short stories, French author Luc Lang encapsulates the brutality of everyday life. Each tale is an admixture of tragedy, comedy, ridicule, and pain. Compassion lurks somewhere, perhaps, but pity is conspicuous by its absence. 

Lang’s curt, agitated prose disassembles daily life with a swift, unflinching hand and examines it with a sharp, analytic eye. Skinning quotidian moments to bare, raw impulses, confusions, and the agonies underneath, the stories in Cruel Tales from the Thirteenth Floor show the mundane grind of the everyday forces that are fueled by cruel calculation and amoral happenstance and shot through with bizarre surprise. The results are at once coldly comic and powerfully tragic.

Interpreting human interactions as a series of precise jabs and desperate flailings, Cruel Tales from the Thirteenth Floor tells truths about the darker sides of our potential and our well-meaning urges dimmed by chance. 

About the author

Luc Lang is an award-winning French author of many works, including Voyage sur la ligne d’horizon; Furies; and Les Indiens. He has also published the startling autobiographical work 11 septembre mon amour. He teaches aesthetics at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts de Paris et Cergy. 

Donald Nicholson-Smith has translated noir or noirish fiction by Jean-Patrick Manchette and Thierry Jonquet, and, with Alyson Waters, Yasmina Khadra’s Cousin K (Nebraska, 2013). Born in Manchester, England, he is a longtime resident of New York City. 

Praise for Cruel Tales from the 13th Floor

“An extraordinary fabulist of subterranean aggression.”—Christine Ferniot, Télérama

“Like Francis Bacon, Luc Lang sets out ‘to paint not the horror but the scream.’”—Jean-Claude Lebrun, L’Humanité 

“[Luc Lang] works with enormous talent on ellipsis and on the unsaid. . . . His electrifying writing presents events in all the banality of their ugliness or sadness: the firing of a good worker injured on the job, the foiled attempts of a superior to wrest sexual favors from a subordinate, the failing memory of an old man. . . . Lang shows the cruelty of the world without ever pronouncing the word ‘cruelty.’”—Les Inrockuptibles                                        

From the author: “One day in the early 1990s I heard a news report on the radio. There, in the incandescence of the facts, was a model for fictional narrative. . . . A woman pulls up in the fast lane of a highway and begins to change a wheel, as though on the hard shoulder. Just as she is removing the wheel with the blow-out, she is struck by a fast-moving automobile and killed, borne aloft along with her wheel, her jack, and her car's rear fender—bone, flesh and metal exploding on the hood of the other vehicle. Was she stupid? Was her psychological makeup to blame? Her mental state at that particular moment? Her age? Sex? Family history? Her psycho-socio-historico blah-blah-blah background? Who cares? Only the act matters, in all its madness, all its intensity. . . . The act in itself reveals and illuminates our whole world.”—Luc Lang, Délit de Fiction (Notes for a Poetics of the Novel). Paris: Gallimard, 2011  

This work received a French Voices Award

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