Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and other characters to make you cry with laughter

In Coup de Foudre, the title novella of Ken Kalfus’s collection of stories, the ex-head of the IMF sends an email apologia to the chambermaid

11 July 2015

9:00 AM

11 July 2015

9:00 AM

Coup de Foudre Ken Kalfus

Bloomsbury, pp.277, £16.99, ISBN: 9781620400852

Coup de Foudre has a line from Antony and Cleopatra as its epigraph: ‘Some innocents ’scape not the thunderbolt.’ In this new volume of stories from the American writer Ken Kalfus no one, innocent or guilty, can be counted safe.

The novella which gives this collection its title is an audacious fictional riff on a real-life scandal: the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the IMF, favoured candidate for president of France, arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a hotel chambermaid in New York. Couched in the form of an email apologia to the maid, this is like the story of Red Riding Hood told by the wolf.

Kalfus simultaneously gives us the narrator’s sexual obsessions and ruthless solipsism alongside the intolerable stress of trying to save the world (financially speaking) with the aid of his Blackberry and a reluctant Angela Merkel. The humour is blood-dark, elegantly farcical, redolent of Nabokov’s Pale Fire and its ambiguous commentator.

In the 15 stories that follow, Kalfus conjures up an extraordinary range of characters and pulls us into their lives — a child used as go-between in a light-hearted game becomes the unwitting instrument of destruction; a scientifically savvy patient builds a gloriously edgy relationship with his glaucoma specialist; in a quiet corner of Paris a young man finds himself mysteriously imprisoned on a park bench.

Some stories grow out of the tug between loyalty and ambition, or duty and desire. In ‘Mr Iraq’, a political journalist at a critical point in his career is torn between meeting a crucial deadline or rescuing his 80-year-old father, in police custody for protesting outside the White House. A story titled ‘The Un’ follows a wannabe writer desperately struggling to climb the seemingly impregnable wall that separates the published from the un. It makes you want to cry — with laughter. Kalfus’s characters are prone to existential doubt and panic, questioning their own fears: can a haircut be politically provocative? Could a minor court case bring about the end of the world?

The protagonists are invariably men; women are rarely in the foreground of these narratives: they are wives, or sex objects, or creatures of beauty, glimpsed and yearned after, filtered through the male gaze.

Kalfus has written three novels and two story collections, finalists for prestigious awards, lauded by the elite of the American writing scene. It’s a sign of literary parochialism that he should be barely known by British readers. This could be about to change. The stories are sharply original; he can be cool, hip, tragic. Kalfus sets the bar ambitiously high and one or two stories may not quite make it. Most linger in the mind, uncoiling, expanding. Witty, unsettling, sometimes weird, they sing from the page with intelligence, humour and style.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

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  • Gilbert White

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn would actually neatly fit into the stereotype of the US/German propaganda film-maker from the thirties. Only the Americans would have had the temerity to handcuff and photograph a dishevelled Eurocrat. Not even Putin would have dared. In Europe we only humiliate dumpy if truthful little buffons.

    • Dan O’Connor

      I’m suprised considering the ethnic background of Strauss Kahn that we even heard about it . I’m not suprised considering his ethnic background that he was head of the IMF .

      • Infidelissima


        you truly do think like an inbred jew-obsessed Abdul, which is so ironic, since you hate them so much.

        You might wanna go see somebody for this strange malaise Dan.

        • Dan O’Connor

          No Moshe, I’m beginning to think like a Jew .
          ” What’s good for us “

          • Infidelissima

            you’re right, I should think of what’s good for you jew-haters, right? Or maybe we Jews should think opt what’s best for our enemies, like you Brits are doing with your mussies, ey?LOL

            If only you people cared about your daughters as much, as we care about ours. Rotherham would have never happened in Israel.

            xoxo Abdul

          • Dan O’Connor

            You should spend your time having a go at your own tribe who have been at the forefront of immigration and the anti-speech laws for the last 50 years in the West , because they saw it has being good for them
            Chutzpha ..home..roost .

          • patrickirish

            I note that Infidelissima has not replied to you on this one, but the usual reply is that it was actually the Catholics wot done it.

          • Infidelissima

            well Catholics have definitely raped their way through hundreds of thousands of children throughout history

            but that must be the jews’ fault too, ey?

            Damn, I’m going out to get popcorn, can’t wait for that epic final showdown of white jew-haters vs mussie jew-haters

            I hope none of you make it.
            Ta ta.

          • patrickirish

            The thing I forgot to say to Dan O’Connor is that apart from blaming others and avoiding substantive issues there will be an immediate barrage of abuse. But then you have shown that, haven’t you/

          • Infidelissima

            ‘blaming others’ , you mean like Dan is blaming Jews for Rotherham, you blaming Jews for Rotherham, and mussies blame Jews for literally EVERYTHING?

            LOL, keep going, you braindead troglodyte, this is great.

            Don’t forget to fight hard when those mussies attack, I’ll be watching and cheering on none of you xoxoxo

          • patrickirish

            Pretend all you like. They are coming for both of us. That you will be first gives me no pleasure at all.

          • Infidelissima

            I will not be first, I can go to a country that PROTECTS it’s people. We Jews have learned that we can only rely on each other, thanks to you, thanks to what history in European countries have taught us and thanks to COMMENTS LIKE YOURS.
            Israel is the only country on earth that spends billions on something called the ‘Iron Dome’. Meanwhile Britain spends billions building mosques, helping Pakistan and importing pedophiles and beheaders. Rotherham would have never happened in Israel and you wish more Jews ‘controlled’ your pathetic spineless mussie-whore of a country.

            And if rabid unhinged anti-Semites like you 2, who needs mussies? You 2 so deserve each other!

            Enjoy your new friends, and don’t forget to blame us Jews for your entire continent going under.


          • patrickirish

            The nastiness continues, your contempt for the English, for white people, unabated, unashamed, but noted by others – you are a moth to a flame. Do yourself and favour and go and talk about Arabs as insects somewhere else.

          • Sue Smith

            Aw, come on now…perhaps a little bit of pleasure – if not schadenfreude.

          • patrickirish

            Not really, partly because if A, then B, but also because most people just get on with their lives, and why should they suffer because of lunatics like infidelissima.

          • greencoat

            ‘well Catholics have definitely raped their way through hundreds of thousands of children throughout history;

            And thousands of NHS staff are really carnivorous lizards in disguise.

          • Infidelissima

            so Rotherham is the Jews’ fault too?

            LOOL priceless!
            please keep going Abdul….

            it’s funny when somebody who hates muslims, sounds EXACTLY like them and has no idea.

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  • Roger Hudson

    I thought a ‘coup de foudre’ was love at first sight, surely nobody has had that looking at DSK?
    Come on, he used to pay for it, or got others to pay for him.

  • ajcb

    Hurrah to the wonderful Ken Kalfus.