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Aunt Rachel's Fur

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Spirals into a temporal abyss as the author rummages in old memories tattooed with cabbages, plump breasts, and the Final Solution
In Aunt Rachel’s Fur, Raymond Federman—French by birth, American by adoption, Jew by memory—plays with the language of his childhood to construct a story from digressions. Federman’s narrative spirals into a temporal abyss as he rummages in old memories tattooed with cabbages, plump breasts, and the Final Solution. His book swirls with the narrative innovations that mark him as a leading experimental surfictioneer.
Aunt Rachel’s Fur is a novel about its own telling, an intimate meeting between voice and reader, in which flesh and blood are reduced to fiction, and fiction, by its telling, becomes fact. Reymond Namredef, a French expatriate, has returned to France after a disastrous decade in America, with 365 boxes of pasta and the hope of publishing his novel about a novelist. In a cafe in Paris, he meets a "professional listener," and, through a series of conversations, offers a loose account of his life that shows little respect for chronology. His story is woven of fragments, branching out over a lifetime and capturing the alchemy of fiction and memory.
Faced with the chaos of the twentieth century, Federman finds humanity in the absurd. Like novelists Mark Amerika and Ronald Sukenick, he skewers literary convention and pushes the boundary of postmodernism. Aunt Rachel’s Fur is both a tribute to his love of the word—the story as it is told—and a further exploration of our understanding of fiction.

282 pages, Paperback

First published May 19, 1998

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About the author

Raymond Federman

70 books32 followers
Raymond Federman was a French–American novelist and academic, known also for poetry, essays, translations, and criticism. He held positions at the University at Buffalo from 1973 to 1999, when he was appointed Distinguished Emeritus Professor. Federman was a writer in the experimental style, one that sought to deconstruct traditional prose. This type of writing is quite prevalent in his book Double or Nothing, in which the linear narrative of the story has been broken down and restructured so as to be nearly incoherent. Words are also often arranged on pages to resemble images or to suggest repetitious themes.

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Displaying 1 - 9 of 9 reviews
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
792 reviews
July 25, 2023
..as you read the first line of this review and move on to the second, and even while your eyes are scanning the words and you're wondering what exactly this is going to be about, Goodreads presents you with the wonderful opportunity to click on more...

You, because you are smart, have now clicked on more while the other 'yous' who are not so smart have taken an alternative path and are at present reading the amazing news that X has added ten new books to her shelf and that Y has read 27% of Z.

You, the one who is reading this, may think that the review is shaping up to be a pastiche. That is a slight problem because if you really would have preferred the pastiche version, you may have to come back another day—this review is about to veer off in a different direction completely.
Just be grateful that the reviewer, unlike Raymond Federman, has given due warning of her intentions.

This might be a good place to insert a quotation, but perhaps not one from M. Federman just yet, although he likes to insert quotes from his favourite authors in his own text, some of which he acknowledges, others he simply borrows and makes his own (I could list the authors he quotes, since he particularly likes lists, but I won’t).

This quote is from Jonathan Swift, and even though it was not found in this book, it is quite apropos:
I have known authors to enclose digressions in each other like a nest of boxes
(and note that Swift wrote that line quite a few years before Laurence Sterne composed his treatise on the art of the digression, a fact which allows me to make a comment on the slippery nature of time, something that Federman exploits quite a bit in his writing: the narrative moves back and forth in time and plays tricks with the notion of chronology. Like Sterne, Federman maintains that time doesn't always move in a straight line from a beginning point to an end point as if it were a train journey, qu'est-ce que tu crois que c'est le temps, une ligne droite qui va dans une seule direction, quelque chose qui bouge pas, ce que tu peux être betterave mon vieux, le passé ou le futur c'est pas un endroit fixe sur une carte postale, c'est ça que la plupart des gens comprennent pas, hier, aujourd'hui, demain, l'anneé prochaine, les gens ils voient le temps comme une sorte de destination, on en vient et on y va...).

As to digressions themselves, Federman uses a particular verb to describe his own technique, or rather the technique of Namredef, the struggling author based in New York who features in the narrator’s story, a technique which is also used by the narrator himself, who is called Raymond. He calls it saute-moutonner, the nearest equivalent in English is ‘to leap-frog’. Federman leap-frogs a lot.

La Fourrure de Ma Tante Rachel is composed of several stories each slotting into the others like Swift’s nest of boxes, and even though they are part of the same story, they are also independent just as in the game of leap frog where the obstacles are separated but nevertheless form a chain. Most of the material in Federman's nested stories has little to do with Aunt Rachel’s fur coat, the Fourrure of the title, but it has a lot to do with the word fourire which describes the kind of laughter bordering on craziness with which the narrator recounts his series of interconnecting stories. Federman’s style is unique: short, unfinished phrases, mostly in slang, combined with complex wordplay, plajeu, or playgiarism as he calls it, a combination of wordplay and plagiarism; he may have borrowed that term, he admits to borrowing ideas as well as quotes. Because he is bilingual and some of the stories take place in the United States, he mixes the sound and meaning of certain words in both French and English, stretching the notion of ‘double-meaning’ to a new dimension, and not just in the double-entendre or sexually suggestive sense of the term although there are plenty of references to sex because the very act of literary creation excites Federman so much that he frequently indulges in what he calls enculage littéraire. No, his fourire wordplay pervades the entire text: the verb 'to digress' turns into engraisser, agresser, regresser to suit his purposes; the jazz term 'noodling' is used for the improvisation or doodling that underlies his narrative style, and out of that idea he builds an entire story for his New York based author around the concept of noodles or nouilles, set in Nouilleorque, of course; he uses the term rezoomer to mean resume but also to examine close up; literature becomes laughterature, writing that makes us laugh, but it means more than that because rature in French means a cancelling out, a deleting, so we are being presented with comic literature which nevertheless cancels out the comedy. And so the Gestapo becomes la j’ai-ta-peau (I'll skin your hide)

Yes, the crux of La Fourrure de Ma Tante Rachel is a more sober one than I or Federman have led our respective readers to believe so far. Federman maintains that writers always plagiarise their own lives, that they substitute fictions for their own history, and that such fictions must not be termed autobiography because the act of writing not only transforms the history, it rather invents the history since we do not know who we are until we begin to write. Therefore, in this self-reflexive non-autobiography, he constantly circles around the events of his own childhood. His aunt Rachel, if she is real, something he never guarantees, and other real members of his mother’s family, survived the Holocaust, but Federman’s mother, father and two sisters died in Auschwitz; their eternal silence, their unfinished lives, lie behind the continuous barrage of talk directed at the reader by Raymond, the narrator.

So things are never what they seem in this account; illusion and trompe l'oeil are at the core of Federman’s technique. Half way through the book, the narrator tells the reader or ‘professional listener’ who is a character in the book just as ‘you’ are a character in this review, that when he looks at a painting, whether ancient or modern, representational or abstract, he likes to take time to contemplate how the artist has managed to achieve his effect, how he has managed to make the illusion he has created on the canvas into a reality.

His reference to how carefully he examines a painting caused me to realise why I had been reading La Fourrure de Ma Tante Rachel with such care and attention from the beginning in spite of the easy, conversational style of the narrative. I had been trying to figure out how Federman had achieved his effect, how he had created the several illusions succeeding each other on the page. I realised that he had given me, the reader, an active role in the life of the book. There are other writers who do this but Raymond Federman does it exceptionally well.

The more I think about his techniques, the more it seems to me, and especially as I search for a way to bring this review to a close, that along with Beckett whom he revered, Federman must have read Laurence Sterne and must have thought about the concept of the 'Unfinished'. Sterne’s main work, Tristram Shandy, is unfinished, as is practically every chapter in it, and many of the sentences too. Joyce’s Finnegans Wake is also unfinished, the last words taking the reader back to the first. Federman has a particularly neat way of ending his book, he allows the reader to be unfaithful to it. Yes, he knows very well that readers like you quickly move on to the next book, the next review, and that the book or the review consequently cease to exist in the reader's present time; so the book hasn't ended, it's been cuckolded, the reader already elsewhere in the arms of a new lover.

Sterne, Joyce, Beckett, Federman, they all seem to know that the only real ending is death, that everything else is like breathing, it just goes on and on. We can artificially put an endpoint in a story but it cannot be a real ending because there's always more to be said. It's knowing when to put in the artificial break that is the problem. Some writers, like Joyce and Federman use clever strategies to avoid it altogether, other writers and artists, like Cézanne, know how to do it instinctively, still others, like Proust have death do it for them....

Reviewed in March, 2014
Profile Image for Geoff.
444 reviews1,232 followers
November 14, 2014
Since Federman is the storyteller here, I’ll let him do most of the work:
”...if I hadn’t become a writer I probably would have been a painter, or maybe a sculptor, yes a sculptor because sculptors have to be violent, they have to fight with their material, I would have done dirty erotic art, I would have created obscene scatological objects to symbolize the great crime of our century…”

”...one dances for nothing, only for the beauty of dancing, for the form, because one can never tell the dancer from the dance, as Yeats put it so well, the walker always walks for a reason, it’s the reason that makes him walk, good or bad, useful or useless, doesn’t matter, ah but one dances for no reason, that’s what you have to understand if you’re going to stay and listen to me, I’m not walking here, I’m dancing, get it, I’m doing acrobatics, I don’t tell my stories in order to get somewhere, I tell them for the simple pleasure of telling, no more no less, and if you’re listening in order to find out what’s going to happen at the end, you’re wasting your time, you have to listen just for the pleasure of listening to my voice, to the dancing of my voice if you prefer…”

”...writing is not what you remember but what you have forgotten… the writer makes the transition from the visible to the invisible, as he plunges into the invisibility of language, he confronts the incapacity of seizing the subject who writes, because no matter how hard one tries, the subject who writes will never be able to seize himself in what he writes, he will seize only the writing itself, which by definition excludes him…”

The chapter-long rant, where Namredef/Moinous/Federman tears the editor who rejected his manuscript a new asshole and defends literature against its postpostmodern death, and the heartfelt yet caustic finale where Our Protagonist and a one-legged soldier eviscerate the shit out of hypocritical WWII France, (oh wait... you didn’t know that all of Federman’s novels are essentially Holocaust novels?) puts this one over the top, for me at least. If you enjoy the samples of the writing quoted above, and if you like ASS and IMAGINARY ASSES of all kinds, and if you want to sit down at a cafe table in a charming Parisian neighborhood across from a hell of a writer, and pour a couple of Pernods and light up the first of a chain of Gauloises, and settle in and let him talk your ear off for a couple of hours, digress and digress in a wordy orbit but never really descend toward The Unforgivable Enormity at the heart of his life and the twentieth century, then drop what you’re doing and start reading Federman now!

It’s the New Thing, The What Comes Next, The Books of the Lingoverts, Avant Pop, The New Post-Future, Goodreads It Book of 2014, The People’s Revolution Number Four, popomomo -- Damn it, it’s A Time of Noodles!
Profile Image for Nathan "N.R." Gaddis.
1,342 reviews1,372 followers
May 20, 2017

“What’s the point of writing your life if you can’t improve it a bit?” -- Moinous.

Namredef returns to France ten years after he left. Ten years he’s been in America. There’s some business he’d like to take care of in France regarding his family who royally screwed him when the Nazis came around rounding up Jews, Namredef’s father, mother and two sisters carried off to the camps, while his rich relatives fucked off to the free zone and Namredef to slave on a farm for three years. Or maybe he’s not revisiting then, which would be perhaps in the 1950’s, but rather some time around the time Federman is writing his book, Aunt Rachel’s Furs, but who really gives a flying whose-it about chronology. What does chronology have to do with storytelling. I make it up as I go along. Same as anyone telling a story. Same as anyone telling you the story of their life and how their rich aunts and uncles sold them down the river, sold them down to the camps where they became soap and lampshades.

There’s perhaps no need to call this thing a novel. Just don’t call it a “memoir” or “autobiographical” because we know that everything written is fiction and we know that all novels are memoirs and autobiographical even if we find ourselves making stuff up only because making it up makes for a better story. And a story? We know what stories are. Stories are digressions. And the more digressions the better your novel will be. You want plot. Plots are for dead people. But Namredef, he’s telling his story in Paris over several days, telling it to a professional listener who is not as erudite as a professional listener would be, you’d think. No, the professional listener is not YOU, the reader; you’re just the reader. The professional listener is just another character in this here book just like Namredef who is telling the story of how his rich relatives _________ ..... and telling us about a novel he’s writing which is about noodles, 365 boxes of noodles which is a year’s worth of noodles for the time he’ll spend noodling on his novel. It’s all Jazz, man. And let’s be clear that this is NOT monologue, it’s not soliloquy, IT’S DIALOGUE, all storytelling is dialogue, and if you want your story to be believable you’ve gotta know that there’s this here storyteller telling you his story and he’ll comment till the end of days about HOW he’s telling his story and he’ll digress into the next story to the content of his heart, that’s just what storytellers do just like Reviewers here on goodreads review books all the time that they don’t understand very well just like we usually don’t understand very well the stories we tell other people about ourselves and we have to make up a lot of stuff because we just don’t remember what happened or what happened isn’t very interesting and wouldn’t make a very good story, so we do all we can to improve a little here and a little there and make sure there’s enough ASS in it because stories are better when there’s a lot of ASS in them and fake our way through the parts we don’t understand very well or just can’t remember but there it is, the story of my life and this here is the Review I hope you like. I could probably improve it a little bit but I’d rather you spend your days reading Namredef’s stories than worrying about whether I could improve upon this here review or not, but probably not so much and you really shouldn’t expect a NEW and IMPROVED second edition. That’ll never happen.
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,049 reviews4,118 followers
June 5, 2014
Federman is back on flaming form following his subdued letter-never-sent (To Whom it May Concern) in this rollicking rant. Bitterness and recriminations and the past-sure-is-tense and ASSES and more ASSES eat up the pages of Aunt Rachel’s Furious and once again the reader is held in hilarious and traumatised thrall. His stand-in protagonist fabricates and recalls and improvises the return of his glamorous aunt during Ray’s(whose?) time living with his diabolical relatives in France postwar, and digresses into the usual areas of preoccupation—publishing his noodle novel, ASSES, and the general scallywaggery of every wretched soul to ever stand in the way of his progress as a postmodern pioneer. This one cranks the bitterness to eleven, making the reader more concerned and eager to poke into the truth (don’t laugh) of Federman’s past despite knowing better and rolling with the whole surfictional shebang. Marvellous as ever with a rip-roaring writer-revenge climax.
Profile Image for Ben Winch.
Author 4 books358 followers
December 1, 2015
In many ways, judging by Aunt Rachel, this guy should be Metafiction 101, Ground Zero for an understanding of that term and its importance. And in many ways, I wish I’d read him earlier. Back when I first read Thomas Bernhard, for eg, maybe I’d have devoured him as I did Bernhard. Back when I was looking for someone, someone to keep talking and talking and then to shut up when I wanted, and then to start up again at the exact same intensity as if without pause, without my missing a beat because the beat is just so propulsive you can’t miss it, and it DOES NOT stop. Federman, like Bernhard, is that guy. Aunt Rachel, like Correction or Woodcutters, seems one long fast-spinning spiral, though where Bernhard spirals ever inward like a whirlpool, Federman spirals outward, shooting sparks, like a comet. Part of his life-urge, I guess, his joi de vivre; pretty much opposite to Bernhard’s death-wish, come to think of it. But I don’t think it was the death-urge that drew me to Bernhard; in some ways, he was an ill fit, despite that I love the vitriol. Federman, too, despite the vitriol, is a slightly ill fit for me: his ruddy sexed-up con-artist come-on is just a bit too Bukowski. But the way he keeps spinning and spinning, that’s gold, if you’re in the mood to get dizzy, of course.

But the meta thing – what was I saying? Oh yeah. You know, I learned a lot from Aunt Rachel about what “meta” could be: not the animating of cardboard cut-outs because, y’know, it’s all just a story (which is probably, I now realise, a popular debased form of meta anyway), but the necessary distancing of the true-seeming narrator (as opposed to the cardboard narrator) from recollected true-seeming events. All – at least in Aunt Rachel – pretty straightforward really, less interested in acrobatics than in play, than in freedom, the freedom to double back, try again, develop the routine before an audience rather than hidden backstage. The effect, says Federman, is something like jazz. Well maybe. I say it’s like leaving the sketchlines in the portrait.

And even though I stalled halfway through, put it down for months, and have read to the five-sixths mark sporadically hardly daring to guess when I’ll finish – despite that, I like it, I like it fine, and I’m far from worried, anyway, that I’m missing something, or that the end will shock me and I’ll just go “Huh?!”, because I know “the end” will just be a short break for air, that – just like Bernhard – Federman writes the one book, or variations on it, with ever that incessant circling rhythm marching on and on.

Read Federman for straight-talking no-shit metafiction. (Look at me, here I am writing that word – metafiction (I said it again!) – without quotation marks!) Not a subgenre I’m familiar with (the no-shit part, anyway), but Federman makes it look inevitable, and makes the most compelling case I’ve encountered (aside from Gerald Murnane’s) for its inclusion – this technique – in the standard toolbox of the modern writer. Meta-fixin’.
Profile Image for Franziska Nyffenegger.
138 reviews24 followers
December 31, 2019
(gelesen in der deutschen Übersetzung von Thomas Hartl, 1997 erschienen bei Faber & Faber)

Die Widmung "For Franziska who now can wear Tante Rachel's Fur" vom 5.7.1998 erinnert mich daran, wie lange das Buch schon ungelesen in meinem Regal steht. Federman hat mich beeindruckt, damals, am Literaturfestival Leukerbad, als er im Garten eines Hotels aus seinem Werk gelesen hat. Ein älterer Herr, charmant und witzig, der sich mit Themen befasst, die mich schon lange interessieren: Sprache und die Möglichkeiten des Erzählens, Grenzen zwischen Fakt und Fiktion, Beziehungen zwischen Autor- und Leserschaft. Aber irgendwie habe ich den Einstieg bisher nie gefunden in den Pelz der Tante … Jetzt, wo der "improvisierte Roman" neu aufgelegt in den Buchhandlungen steht (und ich einmal mehr meine Regale von Ungelesenem befreien möchte), war der Moment, um es erneut zu versuchen. - Federman schreibt atemlos, mit wenig Interpunktion, im Gespräch mit einem fiktiven Zuhörer, der er selbst ist, vielleicht. Ich verstehe, warum sein Buch wichtig ist und was er poetologisch damit will, und ich verstehe die Not, aus der heraus er schreibt. Ich bin froh, habe ich das Buch endlich gelesen, auch wenn ich damit nicht warm geworden bin. Zu sehr stört mich die Art und Weise, wie er über Frauen schreibt, wie er Provokationen setzt. Klar, das ist Teil des Konzepts, der Figur, der Geschichte aber … never mind. Noch stehen zwei weitere ungelesene Bände von Federman im Regal.
Profile Image for Rex Hurst.
Author 12 books37 followers
February 23, 2020
A sequel of sorts to Smiles on Washington Square. A postmodern novel (which means don't look for a straight-forward plot) of a man's return to France from America after 10 years and his reunion with a family he despises. His extended family having left him and his parents to be taken by the Nazi's while they dodged the Holocaust. His story is woven of fragments, branching out over a lifetime and capturing the alchemy of fiction and memory. An interesting tale if a person is looking for something different.
Profile Image for Marc Nash.
Author 19 books357 followers
June 26, 2012
This book throws the gauntlet down to the reader about the nature of fiction. Ostensibly a man is narrating his life to the listener within the novel and jointly as a direct address to the reader himself. The narrative constantly digresses, returns to dropped threads, winds around itself like a dog circling around its bed searching for the ideal lie within the blankets. The narrator is himself a writer and openly admits the story he is relating is constantly being invented, that it is entirely a fiction.

"You see literature is always a form of playgarism (sic), it must be a game or life would be deadly". Hmm, at times this book felt deadly and the games involving the reader run out of any steam after their initial introduction. I spotted straight away that the fictional author Namredef is the author's real name spelled backwards, c'mon man, that's like playing the kiddie version of "Scrabble" to me. For something so non-linear, it is remarkably one-paced and one-toned throughout. There are no emotional shifts of gear in its entirety. The voice is actually rather grating, full of himself, feeling inviolable since he can just rewrite his own (fictional) history at will and boast of doing so. There are some touching descriptions, some emotional connection, but his insufferable smarm and infantile petulance always manages to pull the rug from under any such sympathies we might feel. Quite an achievement, since the Holocaust is one of the subjects broached.
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