A Buffalo-based writer’s affecting if protean memoir about Parisian life and love during the decade of liberation.
Stevenson’s life in western New York was a turbulent one. As a child, he was emotionally scarred by his blue-collar father, who continually told him he was worthless–he then watched his mother die of polio complications. Eager to dismiss him, his father shipped Stevenson off to a Connecticut boarding school at 13. Years later, the author left the East Coast, falling in love with a German teacher during a short-lived stint at a college in northern California. He returned to New York, but in short order his perpetually disappointed father tricked Stevenson into being committed to a psychiatric ward, convinced he was mentally unstable. Months passed and Stevenson was eventually deemed of sound mind. He hurriedly boarded an oil tanker where he worked until disembarking at Le Havre, France, and then moved to Paris, where freedom embraced his lonely, searching heart. Living a Francophile’s life, he barely subsisted on bread, cheese and cheap wine, living humbly in â€œsomething like a room in a cellar.” Stevenson traversed his new environs alone until encountering a young blond model named Cynthia, whom he’d seen wandering the halls of the same New York psychiatric ward he’d attended. Stevenson was instantly smitten, though soon received word from a relative of his acceptance into Harvard. But at 19, the allure of Paris drew him in further, despite the fact that Cynthia’s increasingly erratic behavior hinted at more serious problems. Neither her free-spirited good friends Ode, Charlie and Gloria nor a possible Vietnam War draft could divide them, but while their attraction deepened, minor indiscretions caused an undeniable rift. Though Paris offered all the charm, wonderment and romantic possibility Stevenson could have ever wanted, he departed brokenhearted. The memoir’s timeline evolves in fits and starts, but Stevenson eventually warms to the form and goes on to dictate a life of yearning love and personal enrichment. Its preciseness and melodramatic feel, however, strains its credibility.
A choppy but impassioned chronicle powered by a perpetual quest for love.