ellaminnowpea

Lessons in French - Hilary Reyl It’s 1989, the Berlin Wall is about to come down, and young ingenue Katie has been offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as an assistant to a famous photographer in Paris. Drama and hi-jinks ensue.

The thing about asshole characters is that, in order for me to care about them and want to know what’s going to happen to them, I need to understand a little bit about why they’re assholes. Maybe they had a tough childhood, maybe they’ve had one too many broken hearts, maybe they’ve been diagnosed with cancer and see the meth business as the only way to make enough money to support their family. (Clearly I've been catching up on Breaking Bad all day)

Lydia and Clarence – Katie’s boss and her husband – are unpleasant people, but seem to have no reason to be unpleasant than because they’re wealthy, shallow people with a broad circle of acquaintances with Big Names. They treat each other poorly, they treat Katie poorly, and they treat their children poorly. Their daughter’s soon-to-be ex-boyfriend sums up the entire family when he decries “the sense of entitlement, the cluelessness, the assumption that her jet-set intellectual parents make her someone.”

They barely rise above stereotypes. They’re unlikable because they’re entitled and they’re entitled because they’re wealthy intellectuals. And that just wasn't interesting to me.

Katie is an extremely doe-eyed character who’s supposedly had to work hard for everything in her life (a fact for which I saw no real evidence aside from the fact that her father passed away when she was an adolescent). She’s so doe-eyed that she lets everyone around her make decisions for her and then refuses to take responsibility for her actions. I found her naivete-as-excuse-for-bad-choices frustrating and over-the-top.

And none of these characters seem to grow or change or evolve. It just didn’t work for me. I think Reyl is a promising writer, but her characters never rose above two dimensions for me. The plot was a little thin, too, not exploring any new ideas or surprising me in anyway. In a word? Predictable. Still, I seem to be in the minority around here so there may be something I'm missing.