A volume of essays recounts the joys and difficulties of a Midwestern college professor’s move to Paris.
On sabbatical from teaching, Carpenter moved with his wife and daughter all the way from Minnesota to Paris. After much bureaucratic hubbub, they bought a tiny apartment and set about acclimating to the Parisian way of life. No stranger to the French but a relative newcomer to their daily routines, the author highlights the captivating contrasts between his Midwestern home and his adopted city in 18 essays and three sections: “Came,” “Saw,” and “Conquered.” Each essay focuses on a different element of Parisian life, from the relative opulence of American return policies to the ubiquity of protests and demonstrations. Carpenter’s insights are humorous and deftly crafted, interweaving perceptive details about the French language with curious incidents and stirring events. While the tone is light, the author occasionally ventures into serious territory, most effectively in his discussion of terrorism and the national climate. While his more solemn moments can verge on flippancy, Carpenter generally returns readers to a place of thoughtful consideration. One of the strongest, most innovative passages comes in a chapter recalling the difficult process of raising funds and securing approvals for apartment building improvements. The author convincingly compares this process to the drama of an opera and goes so far as to provide the beginnings of a libretto. Most of his essays are also accompanied by debut illustrator Golden’s charming sketches, which lend additional intrigue to Carpenter’s fluid scenes. Although perhaps not groundbreaking in its subject matter or style, the book is a delightful read, presenting essays filled with levity and grace.
A winning and witty collection offering humor and insight into the French way of life.
Pub Date: July 7, 2020
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Travelers' Tales
Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020
Carpenter’s (This Jealous Earth, 2012) suspenseful debut novel weaves together the consequences of a horrific trauma and the thirst for both vengeance and acceptance with explorations of the human mind, family dynamics and the complexities of language.
A psychiatrist seems well-positioned to process the psychic damage of past events, but Dr. Philip Adler, 52, remains devastated 15 years after the violent death of his only child. As a result, his marriage has imploded, he has developed substance abuse problems, and he has run from the Normandy town where he and his family lived. Adler is a broken, lonely man trying to show strength to others through his clinical practice, but he’s unable to reconcile the events of the past. Although Édouard Morin, a mentally ill local youth, confessed to the crime and has been institutionalized and everyone involved, including Adler’s ex-wife and her new family, wants very much to forget the episode, the body of teenage Sophie Adler has never been found. When the death of Adler’s mother-in-law impels him to finally return to Yvetot, France, he realizes that he must reach closure before he can try to build a new life. Of the many ways a novelist could approach the search for a missing body, Carpenter opts for a most complex and ingenious one—through a detailed analysis of the language used by the brilliant, psychotic Morin during his brief, ill-advised interviews with Adler. This taut, high-stakes plotline is very effective, but the novel contains much more than this. Although Adler is a former resident and fluent in French, he is an interloper in the close-knit community. He is an American; he lacks understanding of the intricacies of French culture; and he is a constant reminder of the town’s inability to keep one of their own safe. As he stirs up unpleasant memories, the town mobilizes against him. The author’s ability to satirize the French people’s distaste for outsiders and their inflexibility brings mordant humor to the grim proceedings.
Fully realized characters, a remarkable fluency of language, wit, and an extensive comprehension of French culture and history make this literary novel a stellar achievement.
Pub Date: May 22, 2013
Page count: 284pp
Publisher: Winter Goose Publishing
Review Posted Online: May 10, 2013
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013
Kirkus Star: Theory of Remainders
Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2013: Theory of Remainders
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