French Exit is described on the title page as “a tragedy of manners,” which is apt. It’s a dark/funny/darkly funny novel about Frances Price, a (formerly) very rich widow who, at the age of sixty-five, has burned through all the money in her husband’s estate and finds herself having to move to a friend’s apartment in Paris in a hurry. It’s also the story of her son, Malcolm, who has lived with his mother since he left boarding school at the age of twelve, and their cat, Small Frank, whose body houses the spirit of Franklin, Frances’s late and not-at-all-missed husband/Malcolm’s father. They all move to Paris, though Malcolm is engaged to a woman in New York, and though Malcolm has no idea what they’re going to do once they get there, and along they way they interact with an amusing cast of characters, including but not limited to a medium, a wine merchant, a private investigator, and another American widow living in Paris.

Somehow Patrick deWitt makes his characters simultaneously awful and likable: I saw him read the first chapter of this book at a bookstore in Brooklyn last year, and the quirky humor of that first chapter made me want to read the rest of the book. That humor is present throughout the book, though it ends up being moving, too, especially in the interactions between Frances and Malcolm, and in the stories they both tell about their unhappy childhoods and fraught parent-child relationships. If you’re looking for straight-up realistic fiction, this is probably not the book for you, but if you’re willing to suspend disbelief and are in the mood for an odd family story, this is an excellent read.

2 Responses to “French Exit by Patrick deWitt”

  1. Jenny @ Reading the End Says:

    I wasn’t sure if this book was going to be up my aisle, but I’ve heard enough about it and how strange and fun it is that I kind of want to read it after all. I liked The Sisters Brothers, so I think French Exit will b ea fun follow-up.

  2. Heather Says:

    I haven’t read The Sisters Brothers (or seen the movie – I tried to watch it on a plane but I was too sleepy) but my boyfriend liked both the book and the movie – I feel like I should give one or both a try at some point. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of French Exit if you do end up reading it!

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