A Paris Table
By Allen J. Kourofsky
Bloated Toe Publishing
After WWI a renaissance of sorts occurred in the arts and letters of Europe and the Americas. Some of the participants in this movement thought of it as political and personal rebellion. Many authors and artists decided to move away from the rigidity of their homelands and they migrated to what they considered as more tolerant venues. Paris became a focal point for many of these rebels. Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Dorothy Parker and John Dos Passos were all part of the literary movement in Paris. Artists included Picasso and Modigliani. Musicians, clothing designers and hangers-on of various sorts added to the mix of the vibrant café scene.
Author Allen Kourofsky enters this era with an interesting coming-of-age story set mostly in cafes and side-streets, a bookstore and a brief side-trip to the Riviera. He uses real people as characters, cameo appearances by contemporary figures who help advance the story. The narrative is from an omniscient point of view focused on the conversation and thoughts of a young American who may or may not become a poet. This unnamed character was scarred by his service as an ambulance driver in the Great War. He is in Paris against the wishes of his father who had hoped his son would be a businessman. To support himself he has taken a job as a bookkeeper in a bookstore.
This novel moves along at a steady pace. The opening pages introduce the main character as he is identifying a dead body and this foreshadows the rest of the story which is revealed in a lengthy flashback. We see the earnest young writers and artists as they drink and talk. They do a lot of drinking and talking. They talk about their work but it seems they devote much more time to the conversation and refreshments. We meet the hero’s acquaintances, friends and lovers in these raucous settings. We follow him to his job and to his seedy room as he thinks about his poetry. Some lines of poetry show up now and again but he rarely writes. His memories of the war, of home and family and his uncertain hopes are exposed in inner dialogue.
As I read this novel, I was struck by the author’s ability to capture the tone of the times with relatively spare description of the surroundings or the characters. He uses voice for the latter and iconic Parisian images for the former. And I was also struck by his non-linear narration, similar in many ways to that of Dos Passos. It is an effective technique and particularly suitable for this story. This is a literary novel, not an action-packed thriller. And though there is a love story this is not a romance. It is gritty while retaining a cerebral quality. Again, not unlike Dos Passos.
Technically, I feel this novel could have used a slightly firmer editorial hand to eliminate some repetition. But the writing is of a high enough caliber to let this small matter slide. If you have an interest in the wild and raucous “Roaring Twenties” particularly the ex-pat era of American literature then I highly recommend this book. And if you just like a good, thoughtful coming-of-age story then, again, this is a fine book for your summer list.