Before discussing French author Anne Garreta’s recently translated work, “Not One Day,” it might be a good idea to explain a bit about Garreta’s style. She’s the first female member of Oulipo, a loose organization of mostly French writers, as well as mathematicians and artists, dedicated to creating artistic works using constrained techniques.
In “Not One Day,” out this month from Deep Vellum Press, Garreta puts her Oulipo credentials on full display, as the short book is an exercise in restriction and indulgence. To write “Not One Day” Garreta subjected herself “to the discipline of confessional writing.” The plan was to write for five hours a day for one month “aiming to recount the memory you have of one woman or another whom you have desired or who has desired you. This will be the narrative: the unwinding of memory in the strict framework of a given moment.” No consulting letters or journals. No drafting. Each woman is given one essay, one chapter. When read together several powerful juxtapositions emerge: the author’s distance and tenderness; passion and repulsion; truth and fiction. It’s all here, and more — in under 100 pages.
That Garreta can pack such a solid punch comes in large part to her fearlessness with form. Garreta inserts her own grappling with the faults and aches of recollection. The result is an aching question about the infallibility of memory: do we actually know any truths or have our pasts all become fiction, because we can only look back through the emotional haze of experience?
For a work so heartfelt and raw, it comes as a surprise that “Not One Day” would turn the mirror more on us than on Garreta. By focusing so tightly on her personal experience, Garreta takes us beyond narrative and into the conflicts of the mind and soul, transforming personal love affairs into something ethereal and universal, and we are powerless to resist the temptation to conduct similar experiments of memory on our own loves.
Garreta gives us our orders: “How to unknot the thread of desire. Dream up nights. Wander again among the shadows.” The form and approach are up to us.