Book Review: French Exit

I’ll tell you from the beginning. This is a post to declare to you that I would make a fabulous casting director. Or possibly a self-deceiving cheat.

I’ve finished reading French Exit by Patrick DeWitt.  I always want to add an article in front of the title, declaring this book to be about the French exit, but apparently there are many French exits, several in the book, more in reality. 

Anyway, I picked it up, knowing it was in production to be a film — but I didn’t know it was a finished film. In theaters now (in LA and NYC). 

The several French exits in the book are declared early. Fanny Price has gone broke. Her immense wealth that grew upon her marriage has run dry. Absolutely. Nothing left after seven years of warnings from her financial advisor Mr. Baker. When the money runs out, he asks Fanny what her plan had been through those seven years. Her response epitomizes her character: “My plan was to die before the money ran out. But I kept and keep not dying, and here I am.” 

Here, at the time, is stateside, but without a place to stay she soon finds it necessary to head to Paris where a friend has an apartment where Frances may stay. She travels to France with her son because it’s their only option (exit 1), all the while with the plan to rid herself of her final spending money and do as she planned: die (exit 2). But she’ll do it her way, as much as she can. 

DeWitt presents Price fully formed, take her or leave her, and take her you must. She’s just quirky enough, just witty enough, and just sane enough to be mesmerizing beyond her beauty. 

When I first began reading, I envisioned Price as Hepburn with a Brynn Mawr accent, an elitist prig from the early scenes of The Philadelphia Story. But as I read, as DeWitt presents flashbacks that explain the why of what you the reader already know the character is, Price took on more color. She could not be caught in the black and white films of Hepburn, held in the distance by time. No, she was fully-fleshed if standoffish, with a flat American annunciation. Her voice became Michelle Pfeiffer’s, flat and flavored as in I Am Sam where her character must hold it all together for appearances sake.

And this is where I return to my premise for this post. Can you guess which actress plays Frances Price in theaters? Why, none other than Michelle Pfeiffer herself. The character could not be played by anyone as well what with the coupling of physical beauty Pfeiffer possesses with her paradoxically cold voice with undertones of rich emotion — such that it made me wonder if DeWitt wrote the novel with Pfeiffer in mind for the role. If he did, he got what he wanted. 

Either way, I got what I wanted and thus I proclaim myself a great casting director without any other evidence than that which I’ve just noted (and will tell myself that is sufficient evidence to make a case — I’m not claiming I’d make a great lawyer). Either that, or somewhere I caught a glimpse of Pfeiffer in the role and have given myself the credit all the while keeping my conscious self from this knowledge. Deceiving at least myself and possibly you in the process. Take your pick.

But if you want to read this book, you’ve got to want to read it for the dark humor and intoxicating horror of Price, whose grown son lives with her because he wants to and she wants him to. Their relationship keeps Malcolm Price from marrying his fiance. (I’m still perplexed as to why the fiance is interested in Malcolm, but that enigma is never meant to be explained. The Prices are an addiction. Logic need not have anything to do with it. And like all addictions, they’re rather dark and a bit dirty.) The book centers on Frances Price, but it’s not necessarily about her. Once you’ve read it, think about it. Tell me: is the book about Frances or Malcolm or someone else altogether? I’ll be interested to know.

Oh! By the way… I’m eager to see this movie — I hope it’s as arty as I want it to be. And since I’m already a fantastic casting director, I can confidently declare it’s in the film’s best interest to follow the notions I’ve never voiced regarding its most apt aesthetic.

Rating: 3.5/5
Target: adult readership, 16 y.o. and up

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RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

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