Monday, May 9, 2011

"A Parisian From Kansas" by Phillipe Tapon

Back in February I read a novel, "The Mistress," by Phillipe Tapon.  I liked it a lot, which is why I picked up his first novel, "A Parisian From Kansas."  Let's just say, it's rather different from "The Mistress." (See my February blog for a fuller discussion.)

"Parisian" is what the author/narrator calls a self-referent novel, self-referent in that the author talks about writing the novel even as the plot progresses.  It is not an AIDS novel, we are assured, yet the main character, Darren, is dying of AIDS.  When "Phillipe Tapon" meets Darren at a party in Paris, he is entranced by this thin, unique, unrestrained young man.  When Darren discovers that Phillipe has ambitions to write a novel, Darren immediately seizes on him to write the story of his, Darren's, life--and death.  The two men begin a relationship that is sometimes a friendship, sometimes a collaboration, sometimes a searing conflict.  You could say it is about a philosophy of life, a meditation upon death, a story of friendships made and tested, but mostly you could say it is a novel about love.  And sex.

One reason I like fiction so much is that I am fascinated by human relationships.  If the relationship is interesting, I don't care if it's between a cab driver and a runaway teenager, an artist and his model, a couple falling in love, or a homosexual and his best friend.  I like knowing what makes people tick, how they find meaning, how they cope with loss and pain, what they do with whatever fortune deals them.  Sex is obviously part of the human experience, but in literature it's not usually the most interesting part, to me at least.  What is interesting about Othello and Desdemona is not just their sexual relationship, though that certainly plays a big part; what fascinates are the jealousy, the insecurity of a strong man, devotion in the face of fear, the machinations of a selfish schemer.  We don't need to know the secrets of the bedroom; we can infer that.  Most of "Parisian" is interesting, though it drags a bit and is repetitious.  For a novel that talks so much about editing, this one could have used a bit more red pencil.  Quite frankly, the infamous Chapter 11 is one I could have done without, not because I found it offensive.  I just found it irrelevant.  I would recommend this novel, with reservations.  In my view, "The Mistress" is a far better book.

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