French Exit by Patrick deWitt

From the back cover:

“Frances Price—tart widow, possessive mother, and Upper East Side force of nature—is in dire straits, beset by scandal and impending bankruptcy. Her adult son, Malcolm, is no help, mired in a permanent state of arrested development. And then there’s the Prices’ aging cat, Small Frank, who Frances believes houses the spirit of her late husband, an infamously immoral litigator and world-class cad whose gruesome tabloid death rendered Frances and Malcolm social outcasts.”

The first thing I need to say about this book is that I liked it a lot. It’s funny and sad and strange and unsettling and everything I like in a novel. Take another look at the clues in that teaser: tart widow, dire straits, beset by scandal, arrested development, immoral litigator, world-class cad, gruesome death, social outcasts. Come on! All that in the hands of Patrick deWitt = A+.

The second thing I need to say is that, in thinking about what to write about it, I have struggled. For more than a week. I haven’t been struggling with trying to come up with good things to say about it (see point #1), but struggling with the idea of heaping more praise upon a book that is already on the Giller short list and upon an author who is a genuine CanLit superstar.

Where does this come from, this reluctance to further celebrate the highly successful? Is it the Canadian in me? (No one should ever be too big a deal – it’s unseemly.) Or is it the mother in me? (Stop hogging all the attention, Patrick, and let everyone else have a turn, too.) Or is it the woman in me? (Please please please do not someday reveal yourself to be a sexist jackass and make me regret having touted your work.) Who knows?

All I can say for sure is that when I was reading French Exit, I had to keep telling myself to slow down and savour it. And that when I wasn’t reading it, I wished I was. And that I’d happily read it again.

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