Frances Price, wealthy widow of high-rolling lawyer Franklin Price, has made it her mission to spend every dime of her inheritance. As the story opens, she has very nearly accomplished this goal. She and son Malcolm find themselves forced to sell everything of value left to them. With their cat, Small Frank, they take up residence in a friend's apartment in Paris. They collect a variety of roommates, including the owner of the apartment, a lonely expat, a wine merchant, a private detective, a clairvoyant, and Malcolm's fiancée. When Small Frank goes missing, Frances calls on the clairvoyant to contact him. At the story's dark and emotionally complex end, they all get what they want—more or less. Acclaimed author deWitt (The Sisters Brothers) crafts a story that entertains to the last page. His characters are quirky caricatures, warped by their social position and wealth by their nurturing (or lack thereof) and mostly bereft of any practicality. The result is both comical and sad. In the long view, the moral seems to be that money can't buy love, so you might as well spend the cash. VERDICT General fiction readers who enjoy the ironic and absurd will find this book amusing. [See Prepub Alert, 2/12/18.]—Joanna Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Providence
In this entertaining novel (subtitled a “tragedy of manners”) that lampoons the one percent, deWitt (The Sisters Brothers) follows the financial misfortune of wealthy widow Frances Price, a magnetic and caustic 60-something New Yorker who has spent most of the fortune her late lawyer husband amassed defending the indefensible. Insolvency comes as a shock to Frances despite repeated warnings her financial adviser about her extravagant lifestyle. She reluctantly accepts an offer to occupy a friend’s Parisian flat and sets sail with her rakish, lovesick son, Malcolm; her house cat, Small Frank; and her last €170,000. On board, she concocts a secret plan to spend every penny, while Malcolm befriends a medium who can see the dying (they’re green). In Paris, the book finds its surest footing, as Small Frank flees and a lonely neighbor connects Frances to a doctor, his wine merchant, and a private eye, who locates the medium to contact the cat, who may hold some secrets. The love of Malcolm’s life and her dim-witted fiancé also arrive, as does the owner of the now extremely crowded flat. DeWitt’s novel is full of vibrant characters taking good-natured jabs at cultural tropes; readers will be delighted. (Aug.)
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
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.
[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.
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.
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.
Darkly comic.... French Exit is both a satiric send-up of high society and a wilding mother-son caper.
"They're not normal people": an entertaining romp among the disaffected bourgeoisie.Early in the pages of deWitt's (Undermajordomo Minor, 2015, etc.) latest, the shiftless son of Frances Price—a meaningful name, that—wanders into the family's Manhattan kitchen to find his mother wielding a "long, gleaming knife." Having never seen her cook, Malcolm is puzzled. No, she's not cooking, says Maman: "I only like the sound it makes." Frances and Malcolm are sensual creatures, she a "moneyed, striking woman of sixty-five years," he "broody and unkempt." Now, suddenly broke, Frances decides to sell what she can and bolt to Paris, Malcolm in tow. Frances is a whirlwind, not a person to observe the rules: When the real estate agent says his fee will be 30 percent, nonnegotiable, she negotiates: "If you name another figure that is not fifteen percent, I will go to fourteen percent…and on down the line until your payment, and your sole function in regard to my own life, disappears altogether." Their fate in Paris and en route is to meet unlikely people, like one Boris Maurus, whose moniker prompts Malcolm to remark, with unusual insight, "We both have horror movie names," and the footloose Mme Reynard, who disappoints Frances by being rather affable and unstylish rather than offering a foil for "a night of implied insults and needling insinuations." Sometimes it seems like the most grown-up character in the novel is the cat, Small Frank, and in any event Paris is not always a picnic, as when Malcolm and Frances observe a knot of cops beating up a demonstration of étrangers: "They moved through the pack knocking down the immigrants one after the other; a tap on the skull and on to the next." Such 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.