May 2015 issue, reviewed by Kelly Blewett
There is something irresistible about a talented American woman in Paris. She feels sexy and alive while strolling the city’s streets, confident the world will unfurl in her hand like a blossoming flower.
Such young women are featured in new books by Kate Betts and Christine Sneed, and both tell wonderful stories—one true, one fictional—about taking risks and pursuing dreams abroad.
Betts’ memoir, My Paris Dream, recalls her years in the city of light after graduating from Princeton in the 1980s. Her Paris was a ladder whose climb began with freelance writing assignments for travel magazines and culminated with a position as a fashion editor and associate bureau chief of Women’s Wear Daily. Betts, who later became the editor of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, is an instantly likable storyteller. She takes you to the Parisian boulevards and describes in terrific detail what people were wearing. Perhaps occasionally too much detail. “Only the French could invent seamless stockings that stay up with a rubber sticky band that grips the upper thigh,” she writes. As a young woman looking to make a good impression, she bought several pairs. “Fashion is tribal,” she explains. “It’s not about who you are but where you belong.” This is a story of how one American woman came to belong in the fashion capital of Europe, and how she wrote about that world for an American audience. Along the way, Betts made some terrific friends, fell in love and witnessed the world of style up close during a time of major transition. Full of slangy French, delectable food and swoon-worthy fashion, Betts’ memoir is well worth the read.
If Betts’ Paris is a ladder, then Sneed’s is an escape hatch. Jayne Marks, the protagonist of Sneed’s novel, Paris, He Said, is an aspiring artist in New York who can’t find time to paint. Then she meets gallery owner Laurent Moller. Decades older and maybe a little too suave, Laurent sweeps Jayne away to Paris to be his girlfriend and to live in his luxurious apartment. In her new life, Jayne has hours each day to paint, cook and work in Laurent’s French gallery, which is located on the same street as the Louvre. “I am closer to my twenty-year-old self here,” she thinks, “closer than I am at home.” Yet she finds it hard to settle into such a decadent existence. Can she maneuver the complexities of Laurent’s social world? Will her paintings ultimately be any good? Is Laurent being totally faithful to her? And why can’t she stop thinking about her ex-boyfriend in New York? Sneed, whose previous novel, Little Known Facts, drew considerable acclaim, expertly keeps the pages turning in this delightful novel. Paris, He Said offers readers, too, an entertaining escape from the mundanities of daily life. With clever and graceful prose, Sneed deftly guides a story that explores whether satisfaction follows when all one’s deepest wishes come true.