LOST IN THE CITY OF LIGHT by Richard de Combray


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Here, de Combray, best known for his travel writing (Goodbye Europe, 1983; Caravansary, 1978), spins a precious tale about an American in Paris who meets a woman through a computer service and pursues her. The story begins limpidly enough: ""An American in Paris is not necessarily Gene Kelly dancing through the streets of Montmartre."" Kevin Korlov, a disillusioned former sculptor who loses his lover Beatrice, teaches English and carries on ""private ablutions and rituals"" of an innocent nature--until friend Sasha tells him about Minitel: ""programs that allow people across the country to meet and talk to each other over the [computer] screen."" Because users choose pseudonyms, accessing it is like ""tapping into a private fantasy, like X-raying a mind."" Korlov, calling himself the ""Invisible Man,"" meets the enigmatic Lea. Their cat-and-mouse game, their endless conversations about what constitutes a perfect day, and their psychologizing (Lea: ""You live as though fate had misplaced you!"") teaches Korlov, who ""had never expected very much more than he already had,"" about mystery and yearning again. Still trying to live a perfect day, they head for Morocco, more dinnertime philosophy (Lea: ""I'm trying to teach you about illusion"") and a car accident (Lea is driving, but Korlov takes the blame and pays the bribe) before a breakup. Korlov grieves, even attempts to sculpt, and at book's end--having mourned ""for all things that die, for all hopes that remain unrealized""--meets a mutual friend and learns that Lea, her modest circumstances too appalling, once attempted suicide and has since finessed a glamorous lie. A mixture of description and psychological banter--which can be reminiscent on occasion of Duras--but here too much cutesiness and not enough clarity or philosophical weight spoil the blend.

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1989
Publisher: Knopf