Picks and Pans Review: The Foreigner

updated 11/19/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/19/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

by David Plante

The title of Albert Camus' seminal existentialist novel L'√Čtranger translated into English as The Stranger, but several critics have noted that, literally, it might be called The Foreigner. It's no accident that Plante has taken that title for this superb work, which is almost as drenched with passivity as the Camus classic. Plante's story focuses on an American college student who uses money from his brother to go to Paris. The young man wants most of all to be accepted. When a musician on the ship to Europe wants him to take a package through customs, he does so. When his landlady asks him to take a letter to a remote town in Spain, he agrees. He runs into an American black woman he had met on the ship and she in turn introduces him to a man named Vincent, who has a gun. The three move into an apartment together and a lot of money changes hands. Vincent is shot. A tedious, hot, dirty and painful train trip across Spain is described in the sharpest detail, and just as the hero is finally about to deliver the letter, the book ends, leaving all kinds of questions unanswered. This ambiguity is part of the book's form; Plante is a meticulous, self-conscious stylist. The Foreigner is narrated by the same unnamed protagonist of Plante's earlier novels, The Woods, The Country and The Family. With each book the character becomes more palpably alive, complex and fascinating. (Atheneum, $12.95)

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