Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Orick
The author has a self-avowed love of Henry James, and she strived in this novel to recapitulate his book 'The Ambassadors', but in reverse. She sends Americans to Europe and there is a reflection on Europe as it compares to America, but through the opposite eyes. The book is also about family dysfunction and personality disorder.
The central character in the book, the middle-aged Bea Nightingale, is sent by her estranged brother to Paris to retrieve her nephew Julian from a bohemian idyll. Taking place in the early 1950s, however, "Foreign Bodies" offers not a sophisticated Europe but a devastated one. The Paris that Bea discovers is exhausted, overrun with refugees, shattered by the after-effects of the war. It is the epitome of the Old World that Julian's father, Marvin, a California aeronautics designer, has spent his life trying to put behind him. Bea's adventures and misadventures highlight the tensions that motivate this novel, between history and progress, the elusive promises of the future and the relentless undercurrents of the past. Bea comes off looking ver good in this book, but Marvin and his children do not. Excellent read.