"The text features a surfeit of introspective musings that add humor and creative energy to Kent’s oddly addictive narrative... A fun, original novel about seeing culture through foreign eyes."– Kirkus Reviews
After a series of unfortunate events, a recent college graduate questions his faith in life and love.
The protagonist of prolific French-born writer, artist, and poet Kent’s (Pop the Plug, 2012, etc.) third novel arrives in Washington, D.C., from Stone Harbor, Massachusetts. Fresh from college and his claustrophobic family, he is eager to prove his ambition and worth to his critical father and himself. It’s the early 1980s, and Albert Nostran, an aspiring journalist raised in France, struggles to find his footing amid the neighborhoods within his new chosen city. Young and restless, a variety of women flit into and out of his romantic orbit: a museum patron, a Gremlin owner, a sweet magazine salesperson. There’s also his oddball, “only partially employed” new roommate, Davey Gronket, and pushy boss, who both add dramatic texture to a story that primarily runs on characterization. Nostran learns the journalistic ropes through a grueling, graveyard-shift internship at Universal Wire Service, where eccentric co-workers and news and personal events keep things lively, among them the precarious presidential election of Ronald Reagan, the murder of John Lennon, and the protagonist’s father’s stroke, which particularly lends the narrative a good dose of poignancy. But when Nostran becomes smitten with the boss’s daughter Claire, their ill-advised relationship expectedly fizzles, and the hero is tossed back onto the unemployment line. Kent’s era awareness of snail mail and landlines is spot-on, and Nostran is an instantly likable young man whose attempts at finding a girlfriend include adorable poetry and postcards dropped in mailboxes. The internal monologues lamenting his female frustrations are both painful and hilarious: “It was either too ripe or not ripe enough because, as my lips were about to indulge in the most natural of all acts, she turned her head away, and all I could feel was a cheekbone.” The featherweight plot isn’t the main attraction in Kent’s novel, however; it is his resilient leading man who, even amid a string of ill-fated episodes, remains a model of perseverance and positive thinking that readers should find as charming as Nostran’s search for true love.
A delightfully calamitous chronicle of city struggles, bad luck, and mismatched dating.
The quirky adventures of a Frenchman in America.
Poet, novelist and French-English translator Kent has a unique character in Albert Nostran. He was introduced in The Big Jiggety (2005), a coming-of-age yarn that followed the ill-prepared French-born American’s struggle through collegiate life in Montana and Maine in the 1970s. Here, Kent vibrantly continues Nostran’s chronicles as a pensive college senior double-majoring in English and art and pondering what’s sure to be “a field of question marks” upon graduation. He continues to live in the freshman Hollister Hall dormitory suite shared with plucky roommate Willy Lee. Only dabbling in photography, Nostran is anxious about postgraduation job prospects, and with little girlfriend experience beyond Sabine back in his native France, his mind becomes unnecessarily preoccupied with Willy’s sexuality. A parade of peripheral characters marches through Kent’s dialogue-driven narrative, most tapping into the uncertainty of postcollege life. Some, such as randy professor DeBaal, are eager to explore Nostran’s more carnal desires. Nostran’s breaks are spent hitchhiking to Stone Harbor, Massachusetts, where his paranoid, brutish American father once enjoyed a livelihood as a journalist for Thyme Magazine. His mother, having sold the family home in France to relocate to Stone Harbor, is unimpressed with the seaside town’s alcohol restrictions, but once settled in, the Nostran family accepts America as their new home while Albert continues his job-seeking exploits amid the clash of cultures. The text features a surfeit of introspective musings that add humor and creative energy to Kent’s oddly addictive narrative. Also helping is a hodgepodge of well-placed references to classic American literature and abstract art history. Setting the novel in motion early is a comical scene in which the reluctant protagonist is lightheartedly coerced into allowing Willy to become his roommate because “only weird guys are worth hanging out with.” This cast of eccentrics is worth spending time with as well.
fun, original novel about seeing culture through foreign eyes.
A coming-of-age novel follows a sexually frustrated teenager who leaves France to study in America.
When Albert Nostran departs his family home in the Saint-Germain-sur-Morin commune of France to attend college in Missoula, Montana, he expects romance and reconnection with his roots. His father, an American-born journalist with a fiery temper, has always maintained a sense of nationalism and encouraged the wisecracking, horny teen to live in the U.S. Albert remembers “when growing up in France how I cherished the idea of coming to America, being in America…careen down ten-lane freeways in a Pontiac GTO convertible pursued by the Hell’s Angels and the Dalton Brothers headed by Marlon Brando, solve mysteries with Philip Marlowe and Raymond Chandler, take a dip in the Mississippi.” What follows is a fairly standard, but amusing and well-written tale that finds Albert navigating cultural differences and desperately chasing women for sex. At one point, he complains: “All my life people have told me to relax. I do not feel comfortable relaxing.” Set in 1977, the tale sprinkles in a number of cultural references, from Elvis Presley to La Fontaine, bringing a welcome perspective to a time that is often romanticized. Kent’s (All of the Night, 2015) keen observational skills provide wonderful snapshots of America from an outsider’s perspective. Dissecting U.S. television commercials, Albert muses: “Diarrhea medication and disarmament negotiations blend together to produce a most unsavory guacamole.” But at times, the protagonist’s reflections give way to curmudgeonly pontification (“Universities corrupt adolescents to transform them into insipid and self-righteous adults”), which distracts from the steady pace of the hijinks-filled tale. Albert is perhaps at his harshest when judging women. At one point, criticizing a plain-looking student he nevertheless pursues, he notes: “She typified some of the women of the New World who although oozing with ugliness remain arrogant.” Kent’s novel fits neatly within the tradition of well-crafted, meandering prose that tackles a young man’s maturation through the consumption of culture and women, which may leave some readers uncomfortable. Still, Albert’s experiences with American culture are drawn sharply into focus when the author smartly transports him back to Europe by the end of the story for a summer vacation. The student’s measured insights, shared with friends and family, and his subsequent capers make for a charming and compelling read.
A fun and earnest tale for fans of international adventures, dry humor, and sexual awakenings.