Frances Price – tart widow, possessive mother, and Upper East Side force of nature – is in dire straits, beset by scandal and impending bankruptcy. Her adult son Malcolm is no help, mired in a permanent state of arrested development. And then there’s the Price’s aging cat, Small Frank, who Frances believes houses the spirit of her late husband, an infamously immoral litigator and world-class cad whose gruesome tabloid death rendered Frances and Malcolm social outcasts.
Putting penury and pariahdom behind them, the family decides to cut their losses and head for the exit. One ocean voyage later, the curious trio land in their beloved Paris, the City of Light serving as a backdrop not for love or romance, but self destruction and economical ruin – to riotous effect. A number of singular characters serve to round out the cast: a bashful private investigator, an aimless psychic proposing a seance, a doctor who makes house calls with his wine merchant in tow, and the inimitable Mme. Reynard, aggressive houseguest and dementedly friendly American expat.
Brimming with pathos and wit, French Exit is a one-of-a-kind ‘tragedy of manners,’ a riotous send-up of high society, as well as a moving mother/son caper which only Patrick deWitt could conceive and execute.
This has been one of the quirkiest books I have read all summer, in fact all year. It will have you questioning your humanity because of the things you may laugh at. At the same time, it invokes thought. Almost one of those laugh until you’re crying type stories. At first glance, the relationship between Frances and her son Malcom leaves a bit to be desired but as the story develops you understand more of why it is the way it is. I didn’t think that Small Frank, the cat was going to have as much of an impact on the story as he did. Him being in the reincarnated form gave you an insight to how he was as a person. Frances was not a woman to be messed with. She said what was on her mind and she had no couth about it. She doesn’t even let the fact that she is going to be broke deter her from her attitude and feelings about life. I thought that she was just a woman who loved the finer things in life and didn’t care what expense she had to occur to get them but as the story progresses, you see more into her character and begin to understand what her motives are.
Malcolm seems to be a dimwitted man who has no sense of life but understanding that he basically grew up by himself with no one to really care for him or show him how to be a person, per say, it dawns a new light on him. He is smarter than he appears, and he is also a petty thief. He doesn’t steal to cause harm, he is just a collector of trinkets. He has a fiancé, Susan who seems to deeply care for him, but he doesn’t really know what to do with those feelings. You also get a sense that he also has deep feelings for her but doesn’t know how to convey them to her or even to himself.
Once Frances, Malcolm, and Small Frank (I still giggle when I think about him) arrive in Paris, their lives take a very peculiar turn. You would think it is a turn for the worse, in Small Frank’s case it probably was, but it takes a turn for the better. They encounter new friends, old friends and tie up some loose ends when least expected. Malcolm doesn’t quite understand or care for that matter why his mother is behaving the way she since he is only used to her brash nature and not this woman she has become since arriving in Paris. I will admit that I did find Frances just a tad bit selfish at the end of the story, but I almost couldn’t blame her.
This was an unexpected dark comedy and I enjoyed it. The dark moments blended with the lighter moments in just the perfect way. There were some incidents that I didn’t care for, but I understand that they were needed for the character development and the plot itself.
You never know what life is going to throw at you and it is your decision on how to deal with it. It is also never too late to make changes or make your feelings known to those you love or care about, but it is best to do those things sooner rather than later.
I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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