Friday, June 19, 2009

Flight to Paris

If you're a reader who needs to like and admire the main characters in the novels you choose, I recommend that you skip Beat by Amy Boaz. On the other hand, if you're prepared to suspend your disapproval in order to follow the story of flawed, unlikeable but undeniably interesting characters you might enjoy it.

Frances, an unhappily married woman from suburban New York, has abandoned her husband and toddler son and fled to Paris with her seven-year-old daughter Cathy. She is fleeing the disastrous ending of her love affair with Joseph, a New-Agey, self important older man who translates Sanskrit love poems and teaches at the hilariously named Diamondcutter Institute of Unformed Conceptions in Boulder, Colorado. In flashbacks we learn that Frances, whose marriage is in such disarray that her husband Harry sleeps in a shed he has built in their yard, met Joseph at a wedding reception and was immediately smitten. Blithely ignoring the fact that Joseph was already living with a woman, the formidable Arlene Manhunter, a famous Beat poet and founder of the Institute, she began a frantic love affair with him, flying cross country to spend passionate weekends on the mountain trails and in the Boulder Quality Inn. And as the flashbacks unfold we learn that Arlene is not a woman to be trifled with.

But now Frances is in Paris, trying to entertain her daughter, sort out her life, earn enough money to afford increasingly shabby hotel rooms, and deal with a mysterious man who seems to be following her. Told in the first person, the prose is sometimes dreamlike and poetic as Frances looks back on the events that have brought her to Paris. But there is also an undercurrent of suspense, since the final events in the affair are revealed slowly and obliquely. Frances is not great at accepting responsibility or recognizing her own faults. Fortunately she has a seven-year-old daughter who is good at dragging her into reality, and Boaz's mother/daughter dialogues seem fresh and true. Even though I was sometimes annoyed by Frances' self-justifying explanations for her behavior, I was engrossed in the story (great descriptions of Paris) and impressed with Boaz's ability to weave the past and present together in a compelling narrative.

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