In Myers’ (Paris 1935: Destiny’s Crossroads, 2011, etc.) latest novel, a veteran literary agent makes his way through the literary scene of interwar Paris.
Few places evoke nostalgia like the City of Light in the 1920s, and Myers doesn’t skimp on the literary and historical details in his latest novel: His protagonist, Bill Lawrence, an American war veteran turned literary agent, encounters a bevy of famous writers and artists, although Ernest Hemingway, who provides the novel with its guiding spirit, never makes an appearance. When Kurt Eckhart, an old friend of Bill’s from the war, gets in touch about a manuscript he’s writing about his postwar life in Berlin, Bill is immediately intrigued. He and his American expatriate friend, Kate Lundberg, help Kurt edit his book; Bill believes it will compete with the novel Hemingway is writing—which will eventually become A Farewell to Arms. Kurt’s novel-within-the-novel has essentially the same plot as that Hemingway masterpiece, and although the book emphasizes the superiority of Kurt’s vision, it inevitably suffers from the constant allusions to Hemingway’s oeuvre—it feels like a pale imitation of those classic works. Myers’ book, meanwhile, bears more than a passing resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. The author unfortunately assumes that readers will be ignorant of the history of the period; every historical figure is introduced with a short biography, and the last third of the book rejects dramatic action in favor of long scenes featuring characters rehashing well-known historical events. Readers with no knowledge of this material may find this aspect educational, but it may be frustrating for the better informed. Myers’ depiction of women is particularly disturbing; he seems fixated on lesbian sexuality, and yet his women seem inclined to fall for men. At one point, Djuna Barnes, the bisexual author of the 1936 novel Nightwood and a central character in this book, recovers from her difficult break with a female lover by becoming involved with Kurt. In a novel so concerned with the historical record, some readers may find this invention alarming.
A historical novel that’s more interested in famous names than emotional resonance.