Waiting for Tomorrow
By Nathacha Appanah (1973-)
Translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan
156 pp. Graywolf Press. $16.00
If someone were to ask the question, “What would a novel that sacrifices basic narrative tools such as dialogue and the gradual release of a plot, but is full of beautiful descriptions look like?” the answer would be Waiting for Tomorrow.
The story of Waiting for Tomorrow revolves around the relationship of Anita and Adam, two artistic individuals who are drawn to each other because they are both perennial outsiders: Anita is a dark-skinned foreigner and Adam is from the countryside. We see them abandon their art for practical jobs (journalist for a local paper for Anita and a craftsman for Adam), have a daughter, Laura, and descend into a middle-aged suburban Inferno reminiscent of Raymond Carver’s early stories.
Their lives are “changed” when Adele, also from Mauritius, becomes their nanny (admittedly very very late in the novel). She inspires them both artistically and let’s just say tragedy ensues exactly as you think it will.
A lot happens in Waiting for Tomorrow as you think it will because the flash forwards, labeled Today, give away most of the story. I put it together exactly what was going to happen before the 2nd third of the book. Usually books that give away a lot of the plot in the opening sequences make the lead up to the ending interesting (Chronicle of a Death Foretold comes to mind). What Appanah did instead was give away most of the plot and count on her descriptions to make her novel interesting.
These descriptions are admittedly fantastic: “The man looks at Adele. He has big blue eyes, as blue as the sky that morning. He looks at her as one looks at one’s child for the first time, as one looks at something infinitely beautiful and miraculous. He says, and his bleeding mouth gives him a voice full of bubbles, thank you, madame.” But just because I can see something doesn’t mean I see the importance of why it is being presented to me.
The sparse dialogue (“‘Now it’s up to us.’ Anita takes his hands and looks at him solemnly. ‘Yes, it’s up to us now.’”) is cliched at best and at its worst it’s placed awkwardly. We are told about the characters, but we don’t experience them. Perhaps this is a stylistic choice to make the story sound like gossip but the risk that is taken by this choice is too large.
This lack of character exploration through dialogue and interactions causes the characters to appear like caricatures that fit into two categories: insiders or outsiders. Acceptance is something that insiders take for granted and outsiders want more than anything else. “Adam would not understand the efforts [Anita] makes each day to finally belong here, so that, in the end, words (in articles, in short stories, in a novel) may take her place and speak for her.” But even this debate about whether Anita and Adam can ever be accepted (or should want to be–most of the insiders are pretty horrible, one-sided people) is never given enough page space to fully flesh out the arguments.
Waiting for Tomorrow feels like a collection of sketches, character studies, partly thought out debates that are desperately trying to be a novel. Although I think you should skip this novel, I do believe that Appanah is a talented writer, and I am patiently waiting for a fuller novel from her.