August 21, 2020 | Chapter 2 through the break
Gallant begins this chapter in Bonnie’s point of view. “She had left her country between the end of the war and the onslaught of the New Look…” (Christian Dior’s New Look debuted in February 1947.)
The fact that Bonnie sees history through the lens of fashion tells us so much about her character.
A few pages into the chapter, Gallant shifts to Flor’s point of view and we experience her vertigo: “…the sidewalk came up to meet her.” Rather than explaining Flor’s symptoms, Gallant drops us right into her disorientation.
It’s July—tourist season—and Flor encounters a crowd of Americans at the Café de la Paix. That café still exists, in the 9th arrondissement, where I used to live. You can feel how well Gallant knows Paris; her writing has such a strong sense of place.
Flor’s family is full of “indefatigable nicknamers” (my family is, too) and I love that they dub Bob Harris “the Seal.” Gallant gives us such a specific description of Bob, with his “circus seal’s air of jauntily seeking applause.”
“She had looked up and before becoming aware that a man was watching her let him see on her drowned face everything he was prepared to pursue—passion, discipline, darkness.” Bob reads all of that on Flor’s face. One wonders what book Flor is reading!
“They all turned to the painting.” In a single paragraph, Gallant gives us the four different perspectives of Bonnie, Doris, Flor, and Bob. Four different views of the same image, four sharp insights into the characters.