There’s something about this novel that reminds me of S.J. Perelman’s The Swiss Family Perelman and Westward Ha!. It might be the deadpan absurdity, or the quirky characters, or the witty and sometimes twisty turns of phrase. Probably all of that.
French Exit is about Frances, a wealthy woman in her sixties who is bankrupted after her husband’s death. She and her deadbeat adult son Malcolm decide to move to Paris to live in a friend’s apartment. They bring along their cat, Small Frank, and set out for Europe.
The characters are nuts in the best way, the way that recalls screwball 1930’s comedy. Frances is absurd and not very nice at all, a wealthy beauty who truly enjoys running from “one brightly burning disaster to the next.” Malcolm is next to useless, a sad and self-centered manchild who manages to evoke a little pity, given his parents. And the cat is not just a cat–he’s the vessel for Frances’ late husband’s soul. Once the family gets to Europe, even more oddballs are added to the mix as Frances plans her grand exit.
French Exit is a quick and entertaining novel full of sharp observations and wit, humor and depth, incredibly quirky characters and situations, and some surprising turns.
Eli and Charlie Sisters are known throughout the Oregon Territory as deadly killers. They’re on a job for a man known as the Commodore. The brothers are to hunt down and kill a gold prospector in California. The story follows their mission, and the side adventures they have along the way.
The novel is narrated by Eli, who does not share his brother’s love of drinking and killing. Eli does, however, really love his brother. As the story goes on and he starts to grow a conscience about this particular mission, Eli begins to think that this life might not be for him anymore. But how can he make a break and not lose his brother?
One of my favorite aspects of how deWitt tells this Western is in his characterization of the brothers, Eli in particular. It’s when Eli’s character and story arc really clicks that the novel drew me in the most. These two are hired guns, but there’s enough backstory to tell you that Eli and Charlie came from pretty troubled circumstances. There’s also a curious spareness, almost a flatness, to Eli’s narration–as the story went on, I began to read it as an unwillingness on his part to do too much self-examination. You get the sense he doesn’t like what he’s become, doesn’t like his temper or his circumstances, but he doesn’t see a suitable way out.
Though it’s violent (sometimes intensely so), it’s also darkly funny, and the tone is never terribly intense. There’s a wonderful sense of place, too–the West Coast in the early 1850’s comes through as an area full of danger, freedom, and promise. The story is very fast-paced and compelling, and, as I said, Eli is a fascinating and complex narrator.
If you like Westerns with great characters, some moral quandaries, a nice setting, and plenty of shoot-outs, give this one a try!