A woman of a certain age works through a late-in-life crisis by heading for her dream city of Paris in this second novel by Luckett.
Nicole-Marie Handy loved speaking French with her father when she was a child. Nicole used to dig through her parents’ cedar chest when they were out, pulling out the worn blue book of French words and reading them over and over. Later, she would speak phrases she memorized with him, but one day the book disappeared, and Nicole grew up to marry and move on with her life. Now, in her mid-50s, divorced with an off-again/on-again married lover and spurred on by the death of a close friend, she decides to fulfill a lifelong dream and spend a month in Paris. What she finds there changes her life, but it takes time to unravel the mystery of the photo she finds in an old book taken from a carton filled with literature by and about African-Americans. Fortunately for Nicole, she meets a man who can help her trace the photo. Interwoven with Nicole’s story is that of Ruby, a sultry Mississippi beauty who succumbs to love and desire and deserts the stultifying subservience that defines Mississippi during World War II. Tired of the Jim Crow laws that make her a second-class citizen, Ruby dreams of life beyond the drudgery and despair that face her and decides to get out. When Ruby meets a dangerous older musician, Arnett, she makes her break and sets off a series of events that spill over into the lives of many others. Luckett’s loving descriptions of Paris evoke the sights, smells and sounds of the City of Light. Nicole’s story is one with which any woman, regardless of age or skin color, can relate, but Ruby’s tale and the author’s meticulous research into the Paris of the period following WWII is the real star of this novel.
With the exception of a totally implausible coincidence around which the plot revolves, this book is well written and engaging, a celebration of life after 50.