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French Exit by Patrick DeWitt
French Exit by Patrick DeWitt  

"They're not normal people": an entertaining romp among the disaffected bourgeoisie. Early in the pages of deWitt's latest, the shiftless son of Frances Price--a meaningful name, that--wanders into the family's Manhattan kitchen to find his mother wielding a "long, gleaming knife." Having never seen her cook, Malcolm is puzzled. No, she's not cooking, says Maman: "I only like the sound it makes." Frances and Malcolm are sensual creatures, she a "moneyed, striking woman of sixty-five years," he "broody and unkempt." Now, suddenly broke, Frances decides to sell what she can and bolt to Paris, Malcolm in tow. Frances is a whirlwind, not a person to observe the rules: When the real estate agent says his fee will be 30 percent, nonnegotiable, she negotiates: "If you name another figure that is not fifteen percent, I will go to fourteen percent...and on down the line until your payment, and your sole function in regard to my own life, disappears altogether." Their fate in Paris and en route is to meet unlikely people, like one Boris Maurus, whose moniker prompts Malcolm to remark, with unusual insight, "We both have horror movie names," and the footloose Mme Reynard, who disappoints Frances by being rather affable and unstylish rather than offering a foil for "a night of implied insults and needling insinuations." Sometimes it seems like the most grown-up character in the novel is the cat, Small Frank, and in any event Paris is not always a picnic, as when Malcolm and Frances observe a knot of cops beating up a demonstration of étrangers: "They moved through the pack knocking down the immigrants one after the other; a tap on the skull and on to the next." Such sharply observed moments give deWitt's well-written novel more depth than the usual comedy of manners--a depth reinforced by the exit that closes the tale, sharp object and all. Reminiscent at points of The Ginger Man but in the end a bright, original yarn with a surprising twist.

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