Fried’s second novel (My Father’s Fighter, 2004) is a smart account of a New Yorker’s mid-life musings.
September 11th has passed and Bush is about to invade Iraq, but what’s really troubling Joseph Steiner is that, at 49, he has managed to lose his job as a TV executive. He knew the lay-offs were coming, but forewarning hardly compensates for the emasculation of middle-age joblessness. On a whim, he and his wife Mary, a left-wing publisher, accept an offer to join friends for Christmas in Paris, giving Joseph an opportunity to lick his wounds. Judith and Tad, American journalists stationed in Paris, have been sent to the frontlines to cover the war, and Joseph and Mary get to stay at their posh Saint Germain apartment and shop the Boulevard. The suspicion that his friends are leading better, more meaningful lives is reinforced when he meets up with other old buddies: Johnny, an American ex-pat involved in edgy Parisian theater and the recent recipient of a MacArthur Genius Award, and Gilles, a handsome doctor married to a bestselling Irish author. As dinner discussions revolve around trite topics like Karl Lagerfeld’s newly slim figure, unhappy Joseph contemplates his own slightly pallid life, remembering his days as a reticent and self-conscious student in Paris. As their holiday comes to an end, Joseph and Mary have Christmas dinner at Gilles’s country chateau, where Joseph is confronted by an angry economist, whose harsh words—that Joseph is an emotional infant, a trait common among Americans—rings painfully true.
The story covers small territory, but it explores it in an insightful, amiable way.