Frank Friedmaier is a young man who lives on the third floor of a tenement in an unnamed city under foreign occupation. Frank shares his apartment with his mother, Lotte, who runs a brothel, and various prostitutes in her employ. Frank is a pimp, and he is the antihero of The Snow Was Black, a novel often critically acclaimed as Simenon’s greatest work.
Almost all of Simenon’s novels are studies of a single character. Simenon explores the world through Frank’s sociopathic perception. Early in the novel, Frank kills a man he does not like but hardly knows in order to impress other men he hardly knows who do not like Frank. Law has been replaced by a perverted state of nature, dividing citizens into two camps: those who quietly endure or secretly resist the occupation, or those, like Frank and his mother, who cater to the occupiers.
Frank’s great obsession is his neighbor, Gerhardt Holst, and Holst’s virgin daughter, Sissy. Sissy is infatuated with Frank, and Frank abuses Sissy’s affection in order to capture her father’s attention. Holst represents dignity and decency and paternal discipline, qualities Frank has never experienced but seeks to understand.
One of the key events in the novel is when Frank leads Sissy to what she believes will be her first sexual experience, but Frank substitutes his friend, Fred Kromer, for himself, and Kromer rapes Sissy while Frank listens at the door. Frank wants to be recognized, to get attention for...
(The entire section is 610 words.)