A pointedly literary romance—fueled by two children’s classics—about a Wisconsin woman who moves to Paris with her two daughters after her husband’s disappearance.
From the beginning of their relationship, Robert and Leah shared their separate dreams of Paris. Robert, an author of young adult fiction, has always identified with the Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans; former film student Leah, who’s become the family breadwinner as an academic speechwriter, is drawn to the Albert Lamorisse film The Red Balloon. When Robert, struggling with his writing and mental health, disappears without a trace, Leah and her daughters, Ellie and Daphne, then 14 and 12, don't want to believe he's dead but also don’t want to believe he purposely left them. Then Leah finds that Robert has bought them tickets to Paris. Soon she's running a quaint bookstore in the Marais, sending the girls to an excellent French public school, eating wonderful French food, and having various romantic adventures. She is also remembering and analyzing her life with Robert, who remains an unsatisfying enigma to the reader as well as to narrator Leah. Nevertheless, Callanan (Listen, 2015) uses every magnet in his arsenal to draw readers of a certain sensitive literary persuasion: the Parisian bookstore, of course; romance between a 40-something woman and an erudite younger man (who is African-American, for good measure); a helpful, impeccably dressed gay male friend; precocious teenagers who love to read; obvious plot parallels to the children’s classics; and the mystery surrounding a manuscript from the still-missing Robert that follows the storyline of his family in Paris too closely for Leah’s comfort. Is Robert in Paris too? Is he hiding from his family or searching for them? Does Leah want him back, or is she relieved to escape the burden of his unhappiness?
While Callanan writes about the difficulties of family relationships and the creative process with a knowing hand, the magical Paris he creates feels forced and threadbare.