French Exit: A Novel (Hardcover)

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The following was a review from the Washington Post on August 28 by Anna Mundow:

The opening scene of Patrick deWitt’s "French Exit” is so perfectly staged that a curtain seems to rise on his elegant creation. “It was late autumn, dusk; the windows of the brownstone were lit, a piano sounded on the air — a tasteful party was occurring.” Frances Price, leaving early, makes her excuses to a tipsy, clinging hostess. A discreet struggle ensues until Frances’s adult son intervenes. “Malcolm found the hostess pliable; he peeled her away from his mother, then took the woman’s hand in his and shook it. She watched her hand going up and down with an expression of puzzlement.”
The reader too may be a little confused. This certainly does not seem like a Patrick deWitt novel. Manhattan’s Upper East Side is, after all, worlds away from the 1850s frontier of deWitt’s astonishing epic “The Sisters Brothers” and from the gothic realms of the later “Undermajordomo Minor.” What’s more, these characters belong in a Noel Coward play. Or so it seems until Frances and Malcolm, dallying outside, attract a panhandler. “He swayed in place, and Frances asked him, in a confiding voice, ‘Is it possible you’ve already had something to drink tonight?’”
“‘I got my edges smoothed,’ the man admitted.” The conversation continues in this vein, concluding with Frances asking, “Would you really drink both gallons in the night?”

“Yeah, yes, I surely would.”

“Wouldn’t you feel awful in the morning?”

“That’s what mornings are for, ma’am.”

Now the reader can relax. Within a few sentences, the comic brilliance that sparked deWitt’s earlier adventures ignites this “tragedy of manners” and Frances Price, “a moneyed, striking woman of sixty-five years,” is revealed to be another of deWitt’s sublime eccentrics. The widow of Franklin Price, a brutish lawyer, Frances, along with Malcolm and a cat named Small Frank, relishes living in reckless luxury. (The panhandler, by the way, gets $20.) But when Frances’s inheritance runs out, her treasures must be turned into cash. “I have a somewhat dirty job that needs doing,” she tells a fawning estate liquidator, “and you are a somewhat dirty person.” This unpleasantness transacted, the Prices decamp by ship to Paris — where else? — to live in the spare apartment of good old Joan, Frances’s only friend. Before leaving, however, Malcolm must break the heart of his long-suffering fiancee. “He was a pile of American garbage,” the defeated Susan observes, “and she feared she would love him forever.”
Then we are off. Rarely has a transatlantic voyage and its limited diversions been so pithily evoked. Frances and the captain fall into bed, his penis “a glum mushroom caving in on itself” while Malcolm experiences “unremarkable intercourse” with a clairvoyant named Madeleine and pays a drunken visit to the ship’s morgue. “You get a body a day,” the ship’s doctor explains, “That’s the industry standard for an Atlantic crossing.” Such zaniness is tricky; it can curdle fast into cuteness. But deWitt is too elliptical a writer to turn downright whimsical, though he comes close when the plot develops a supernatural twist.
In Paris, Small Frank goes missing and must be found because, as his name hints, he is Franklin Price in feline shape and his widow wants revenge. The narrative intermittently returns to the wounding past — to the Price marriage and Malcolm’s desolate childhood — while in the present it becomes clear Frances has her own exit plan, as her oldest friend suspects. “I told Don I had to run to Paris because I thought you were going to kill yourself,” Joan announces, “He was fiddling with the television remote and he told me, ‘Tell her hello, if you get there in time.’” Wisecracks like these detonate throughout “French Exit” warding off sentimentality. Indeed, the novel is so mannered, so arch, that even intimate moments are barbed with slyly traded quips.

“Do you and Don still make love?”

“Every year on his birthday.”

“But not on your birthday.”

“Just a nice dinner for me, thank you. Sometimes we go again around Easter.”

Echoes of the British writer Ivy Compton-Burnett, whose influence deWitt acknowledges, are strong, with some of the funniest moments arising from the stylized dialogue. But the comical decorum of deWitt’s style, so wonderfully incongruous in the wilder settings of his previous novels, loses some of its force in this airtight, rarefied world — a world from which Frances does escape, leaving Malcolm to find his own bumbling way. “He felt nimble as he navigated the sidewalk,” the novel ends, “moving around the bodies, men and women alone in their minds, freighted with their intimate informations. Crossing the square at Saint Sulpice, he split through a stream of nuns, who, as insects interrupted, lost the scent of their paths and spun away in eddies.”

-Anna Mundow is a freelance journalist and reviewer.

French Exit, is one of the most quirky and fun books I’ve read in a long time. Patrick has penned a wonderfully nihilistic book about what it means to have too much money. Francis Price has just learned that her seemingly endless supply of wealth has finally given out on her. She wouldn’t care about not having any money except that she needs it ...because she has never worked a day in her life. She quietly liquidates the contents of her house in New York as a stop gap measure. On top of that, she has to take care of her adult son, Malcom, who spends his days in a deep lethargic state only rising to consume alcohol, pester his girlfriend who he seems disinterested in, or float in the pool for an hour or so. Francis also has in her care a cat named Small Frank that showed up and never left. She believes her dead husband’s soul is inside of Small Frank. We follow the Price family on their journey across the Atlantic as they flee to Paris to escape "the bank." Patrick’s deadpan delivery of the character’s actions is hilarious. I can just see Francis finding her husband’s body and then deciding to leave it until she got back from her ski trip. It’s not like he’s dying to get to the morgue. Malcom’s disinterest in anything to do with life is only made more ridiculous by his girlfriend’s disinterest in anything he does himself. It’s like these people have never been told no, never wondered where their money comes from, and have never had to be responsible for anything in their entire lives, except for finding ways squander their wealth. As dysfunctional families go, they get along ok as long as there is a deadline around the corner. Please pick this up. It reminds me of Downton Abby if the whole family had to escape in the middle of the night because they hadn’t payed their help.

— From Alex

September 2018 Indie Next List

“Quirky, wry, darkly witty, strange, and absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious, Patrick deWitt’s French Exit is the perfect remedy for those seeking a respite from the plethora of WWII historical fiction and genre thrillers out there. In deWitt’s depiction of dysfunctional families at their absolute oddest, Malcom Price, his doting mother, Frances, and their cat, Little Frank, abandon New York City practically penniless and scurry off to Paris, where things only get stranger. Every page turned leaves the reader wondering what in the world they will do next. What a breath of fresh air is French Exit! Keep them coming, Patrick deWitt!”
— Angie Tally, Country Bookshop, ,

Winter 2019 Reading Group Indie Next List

“This comedy of manners entertains with appalling characters who become more and more endearing in spite of themselves. While there are laugh-out-loud lines and situations, there are also very sad undercurrents as we learn more backstory. This is a tale of high society, cruelty, shallowness, love, despair, humor, and a hint of the supernatural. Oh, and a very unusual cat.”
— Katharine Wright, Charlie's Corner, San Francisco, CA


National Bestseller

Vanity Fair • Entertainment Weekly • Vulture • The Millions • Publishers Weekly • Esquire • San Francisco Chronicle
USA Today • Parade • The Washington Post • Buzzfeed 

From bestselling author Patrick deWitt, a brilliant and darkly comic novel about a wealthy widow and her adult son who flee New York for Paris in the wake of scandal and financial disintegration.

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 Price’s 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.

Putting penury and pariahdom behind them, the family decides to cut their losses and head for the exit. One ocean voyage later, the curious trio land in their beloved Paris, the City of Light serving as a backdrop not for love or romance, but self destruction and economical ruin – to riotous effect. A number of singular characters serve to round out the cast: a bashful private investigator, an aimless psychic proposing a seance, and a doctor who makes house calls with his wine merchant in tow, to name a few.  

Brimming with pathos, French Exit is a one-of-a-kind 'tragedy of manners,' a send-up of high society, as well as a moving mother/son caper which only Patrick deWitt could conceive and execute. 

About the Author

Patrick deWitt is the author of the critically acclaimed Ablutions: Notes for a Novel, as well as the novels Undermajordomo Minor and The Sisters Brothers, which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. Born in British Columbia, Canada, he has also lived in California and Washington, and now resides in Portland, Oregon.

Praise For…

“A sparkling dark comedy.... DeWitt’s tone is breezy, droll, and blithely transgressive.... These are people you may not want to invite to dinner, but they sure make for fun reading.”

“The comic brilliance that sparked deWitt’s earlier adventures ignites this ‘tragedy of manners’ and Frances Price, ‘a moneyed, striking woman of sixty-five years,’ is revealed to be another of deWitt’s sublime eccentrics.... Rarely has a transatlantic voyage and its limited diversions been so pithily evoked.”
Washington Post

“A modern story, a satire about an insouciant widow on a quest for refined self-immolation.... DeWitt’s surrealism is cheerful and matter-of-fact, making the novel feel as buoyantly insane as its characters.... DeWitt is a stealth absurdist, with a flair for dressing up rhyme as reason.”
The New Yorker

“A cross between a Feydeau farce (fitting, given that the location of most of the novel is Paris) and a Buñuel film, as one after another in an eccentric cast of characters is introduced.... DeWitt is in possession of a fresh, lively voice that surprises at every turn.”
— Kate Atkinson, Vanity Fair

“Hilarious... Delightful.... In his book, as in [Edith] Wharton’s, New Yorkers’ wit and elaborate manners cannot hide the searing depth of their pain.... DeWitt is aiming for farce and to say something about characters who cannot get out of their own way, and he achieves both with élan.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Darkly comic, perfectly brilliant... Let deWitt take you along on this dizzying, wild ride, you’ll love every second of it, and then hop back to the beginning for another go. It’s worth the trip.”
— Nylon Magazine

“Imposing widow Frances Price and her grown son Malcolm go from wealthy to broke and from Manhattan to Paris in this smart, tartly funny novel.”

“[A] riotous tragedy of (ill) manners....  The show stealer here is deWitt’s knack for scene setting and dialogue in the form of Frances’ wry one-liners.... That Frances sure is a force to contend with. But what a classy broad.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Whatever you do, don’t mess with Frances Price.... An entertaining portrait of people who are obsessed with the looming specter of death and who don’t quite feel part of the time they were born into.”

“I will read every book Patrick deWitt writes.... He casts black humor and surrealist streaks of magic onto familiar literary terrains. French Exit’s Manhattan milieu evokes midcentury writers like Salinger and Cheever.... DeWitt’s writing is always intriguingly off-center.”
— Poets & Writers

“[DeWitt] creates and conveys entire worlds — and not just names and places, but colors, smells, sounds and style.... Incredibly entertaining and oddly sympathetic.... And snappy stage-worthy dialogue — deWitt’s wheelhouse.”
— Eugene Register-Guard

“Darkly comic.... French Exit is both a satiric send-up of high society and a wilding mother-son caper.”
— Poets & Writers

“Sharply observed moments give deWitt’s well-written novel more depth than the usual comedy of manners—a depth reinforced by the exit that closes the tale, sharp object and all. Reminiscent at points of The Ginger Man but in the end a bright, original yarn with a surprising twist.”
Kirkus Reviews

“The first time I read French Exit, I raced through, impatient to know the fates of its characters. Then I turned back to page one to enjoy Patrick deWitt’s understated satire and casually brutal wit.”
— Nell Zink, author of Mislaid and Nicotine

“‘My favorite book of his yet. The dialogue is dizzyingly good, the world so weird and fresh. A triumph from a writer truly in the zone.”
— Maria Semple, author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette and Today Will Be Different

French Exit made me so happy—I feel as if I have downed a third martini, stayed up past sunrise, and still woken up refreshed. Brilliant, addictive, funny and wise, DeWitt’s latest has enough charm to last you long after you’ve put it down.”
— Andrew Sean Greer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Less

Product Details
ISBN: 9780062846921
ISBN-10: 0062846922
Publisher: Ecco
Publication Date: August 28th, 2018
Pages: 256
Language: English
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