Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Book Review: Rosecrans Baldwin's "Paris, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down"

First off, I picked up this book and saw that the author's first name was Rosecrans. Therefore, the book couldn't possibly be bad, right? Well, I was partly correct.

Rosecrans Baldwin wrote a bitchin' debut novel in 2010 called You Lost Me There, about a baller Alzheimer's researcher named Dr. Victor Aaron who discovers that he and his late wife remembered their marriage very differently. The brilliant memory specialist must go back through his own memories to figure out what is real and what is make believe. The book won several awards and was on NPR's Best Books of 2010 list.

Paris, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down is smart, funny, and engaging, but doesn't quite live up to the You Lost Me There hype. Paris describes Baldwin's true story of moving to his dream city with his wife, Rachel. The two Americans must endure the language barrier, the culture shift, the coffee, the streets, the driving, the rules about kissing, the cab fare, and more. Baldwin's voice is strong and he isn't full of himself. When he makes mistakes, he admits them. In fact, his minor (and major) screw-ups are what make the book so entertaining. One of Baldwin's most frequent mishaps is, of course, his struggles with learning French:

"You can also try rendering American idioms into French. Coworkers will stand flamingo-still when you so casually drop Moi, je ne donne pas une merde (I don't give a shit). Because other people might pass along feces as gifts, but never you, cool you."

His descriptions are spot-on and his adventures make the reader want to hop the next plane to France. The story is certainly genuine - it just lacks a sense of urgency, a sense of "keep reading," a sense of "Oh my God, I can't put this down." Perhaps the switch from fiction to non-fiction is what makes the book slightly less satisfying, or maybe You Lost Me There is simply too good to be topped just yet. Either way, Paris is worth the read, but isn't necessarily a must-read. An interesting connection, however, is the secondary story line in Paris. Besides battling the French culture, Baldwin was trying to get his first book published: You Lost Me There. The book-within-a-book thing is typically campy, but works well here.

Paris, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down will be published on April 24th by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

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