A coming-of-age novel follows a sexually frustrated teenager who leaves France to study in America.
When Albert Nostran departs his family home in the Saint-Germain-sur-Morin commune of France to attend college in Missoula, Montana, he expects romance and reconnection with his roots. His father, an American-born journalist with a fiery temper, has always maintained a sense of nationalism and encouraged the wisecracking, horny teen to live in the U.S. Albert remembers “when growing up in France how I cherished the idea of coming to America, being in America…careen down ten-lane freeways in a Pontiac GTO convertible pursued by the Hell’s Angels and the Dalton Brothers headed by Marlon Brando, solve mysteries with Philip Marlowe and Raymond Chandler, take a dip in the Mississippi.” What follows is a fairly standard, but amusing and well-written tale that finds Albert navigating cultural differences and desperately chasing women for sex. At one point, he complains: “All my life people have told me to relax. I do not feel comfortable relaxing.” Set in 1977, the tale sprinkles in a number of cultural references, from Elvis Presley to La Fontaine, bringing a welcome perspective to a time that is often romanticized. Kent’s (All of the Night, 2015) keen observational skills provide wonderful snapshots of America from an outsider’s perspective. Dissecting U.S. television commercials, Albert muses: “Diarrhea medication and disarmament negotiations blend together to produce a most unsavory guacamole.” But at times, the protagonist’s reflections give way to curmudgeonly pontification (“Universities corrupt adolescents to transform them into insipid and self-righteous adults”), which distracts from the steady pace of the hijinks-filled tale. Albert is perhaps at his harshest when judging women. At one point, criticizing a plain-looking student he nevertheless pursues, he notes: “She typified some of the women of the New World who although oozing with ugliness remain arrogant.” Kent’s novel fits neatly within the tradition of well-crafted, meandering prose that tackles a young man’s maturation through the consumption of culture and women, which may leave some readers uncomfortable. Still, Albert’s experiences with American culture are drawn sharply into focus when the author smartly transports him back to Europe by the end of the story for a summer vacation. The student’s measured insights, shared with friends and family, and his subsequent capers make for a charming and compelling read.
A fun and earnest tale for fans of international adventures, dry humor, and sexual awakenings.