A transit strike unexpectedly upends the life of the owner of a failing bicycle shop in this literary novel.
Paris, 1995. Trevor McFarquhar has just learned he will soon lose the lease on the bicycle shop he operates (and lives above) on the Rue des Martyrs. Despite—or perhaps because of—the shop’s flagging business, the 37-year-old American-born Trevor views this is as nothing short of a catastrophe. Brought to Paris at age 8 following the death of his father and sister, Trevor has never felt fully at home in the City of Light, though he has no place anywhere else. His resentment of his mother for moving her surviving children there—“simply, from what I could tell, because she’d studied French and had spent a ‘fun’ year in Paris”—has mostly softened into a general aloofness toward her, his younger brother, his casual romantic relationships, and most other things in his life. He isn’t even sure what to do about the bicycle business, seemingly content to let the universe make the decision for him (which is actually how he came to own it in the first place). Then a few things begin to happen, each of which threatens to shake Trevor out of his Parisian ennui. First, Trevor meets Béa Fairbank, an English painter at the edge of his tiny social circle who claims to have heard all about him. Then, a general transit strike brings the city’s trains to a halt, stranding commuters and creating a sudden need for bikes. Finally, Trevor’s longtime crush on his brother’s wife, Stephanie, blossoms suddenly into a full-blown affair, the discovery of which has the potential to sever for good his ties to his family. As the year unfolds, Trevor stands to learn a bit about nationality, family, love, and bikes, and more than a little about himself.
While Trevor is no longer a confident English speaker, Fleming (Someone Else, 2014) enlivens her narration with sharp and measured prose, as here where she describes the protagonist’s romantic flings: “I was honest with them right from the start about the conditions of our arrangement, that is, I was not interested in anything but the stated Casual Relationship that included no exclusivity clause. Furthermore, any attempt to attach strings would be met with scissors.” As the particulars of Trevor’s past unfold, he becomes a much more relatable, tragic figure than he initially appears, and his pseudo-Americanness makes him a particular curiosity for U.S. readers. (One exchange with an American tourist highlights Trevor’s peculiarity: “ ‘So you live here,’ Harry continued piecing his puzzle together. ‘But you’re American.’ I nodded. ‘So you must be bilingual.’ ”) The novel takes its time getting started, its pace is slow, and it could stand to be 50 pages shorter. That said, the author is a talented enough writer to keep readers intrigued even when not much is going on. Trevor is a Francophonic twist on the familiar ’90s slacker archetype, and he makes for an endearingly grumpy guide through a Paris that is by turns mundane and magical.
An elegant, character-driven family tale set in mid-’90s Paris.