Ignore the saccharine title (which does sound better in French)--Monique Proulx's The Heart Is an Involuntary Muscle is a romantic novel but no perfumed Harlequin. Proulx has written a heady and somewhat schizophrenic book that is part Coupland-goes-Québec yuppie satire and part brooding meditation on art and death. Her narrator, Florence, a twentysomething web designer, is beautiful, loveless, and stuck in a seedy on-again, off-again relationship with her employer, a half-Mohawk, half-Italian whirlwind of a man named Zeno Mahone. Zeno is obsessed with the works of Pierre Laliberté, a sort of Québécois Thomas Pynchon, whom Florence unwittingly encounters in a hospital at the bedside of her dying father. Zeno commissions her to find out all she can about Laliberté, and she soon finds herself being wooed, rebuffed, and mentored by the reclusive author. The storyline, of course, is anything but conventional--Proulx does enjoy tossing clichés into her writing, but only to dynamite them (along with the expectations of her readers).
The Heart Is an Involuntary Muscle is a very well-written book, but its manic plot demands that the writer deliver a bravura performance that never slips, and Proulx hasn't managed this--though it may simply be that much of the novel's comedy just doesn't translate into English. But adventurous readers who are willing to tolerate a few patches of flat farce will find The Heart Is an Involuntary Muscle a consistently original and intermittently delightful romp through the meaning of life. --Jack Illingworth