“The Light of Paris”
By Eleanor Brown
G.P. Putnam’s Sons (320 pages, $26)
Macalester alumna Eleanor Brown’s second novel (her first was the delightful best-seller “The Weird Sisters”) recapitulates an old and sometimes hackneyed plot -- the transformation of an American woman in Paris -- in a fresh, endearing way. It is two stories in one -- the first set in 1999, when Madeleine, a thirty-something, drifting, unhappily married Chicago woman, visits her aging, crotchety mother in their small Southern hometown and finds in her attic the journals of her emotionally stifled grandmother, Margie, who in 1924 went to Paris and for a time reveled in freedom, art and love.
Madeleine and Maggie are remarkably similar, and their fates are, too, up to a point. “How is it possible things that are so important to us when we are young somehow fade away?” Madeleine asks herself as she uncovers her grandmother‘s secrets, and ponders her own. “It’s so easy for ... dreams to get run over by other people‘s ideas about what we should do, or to be eroded, little by little, by the day-to-day drudgery of living, or to lose heart when faced with the long, hopeless struggle between where we are and who we want to be.”
Though at times a little too predictable and earnest, “The Light of Paris” is generally finely written and absorbing, and explores the always compelling questions of how to balance reality and romance, duty and dreams, family and freedom. (TNS)