An avalanche in the Alps brings together a disparate group for much debate over cultural differences in Johnson’s latest novel of ideas (Le Divorce, 1997, etc.).
The closest thing to a main character—Johnson has a habit of skipping willy-nilly from one person’s perception to the next, and they all blur together quite quickly—is Amy Hawkins, a fantastically wealthy dot-com executive from Palo Alto. Having so much money leaves Amy plenty of free time and a desire to see the world, which is what has brought her to a French Alps ski resort. Tragedy has just struck, however, in the form of a massive avalanche that has left a married couple from Amy’s chalet in comas. Wanting to help out like a good American, she appoints herself de facto guardian of Kip, younger brother of coma victim Kerry. A nasty hullabaloo erupts over what’s going to happen to the couple, especially seeing since Kerry’s much older husband, Andrew, is not only unlikely to ever regain consciousness but is quite well-off and has other progeny flying in to stand watch over him and haggle over what to do. This is all backdrop for Johnson’s primary aim: to set an American woman of a certain age, very successful, extremely bright, and well educated, in the midst of well-to-do French society (the only not-rich people here tend to be serving wine to the speaking characters) and watch what happens. This leads to quite a few good tossed-off observations on the acrimonious divide between French and American societies, as well as some promising extramarital sexual entanglements. If only any of this were in the least bit entertaining. The much-lauded Johnson, a three-time NBA Award nominee, has a gift for smart gab, but it’s never quite as smart as she thinks, and the turgid lack of credible people or any forward momentum is a fatal flaw.
If L’Affaire were a dinner companion, she (or he) would be quite learned but, sadly, a terrible bore.