My French Whore: A Love Story, by Gene Wilder
The treasured legacy of Gene Wilder includes his books. He wrote a touching autobiography, and also an intriguing group of novels about love. This is one of those novels. It’s set partly in France and then later in Germany in 1918, during World War I.
The characters in this novel are skillfully molded by the author, revealing for each the motivations, personalities, emotional wounds and uniqueness. The beautiful writing reflects the insights gained from an author who made a lifetime of paying attention to people and interpreting their lives as both an actor and as a writer.
It’s almost the end of the War, and American Paul Peachy makes the life-altering decision to enlist in the Army as a way to escape his dissatisfying life. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Life circumstances quickly deteriorate, and new risks faced quickly escalate. How Paul tries to save his life is most unexpected, and humorous, and also brings him into ever greater danger. One of the people he meets in his new circumstances is a woman he falls deeply in love with. As he faces imminent death, he’s never felt so alive.
Through all of his characters, Gene Wilder shows dramatically what people will do, and what they will believe in order to survive fast changing life circumstances. And he shows the amazing ways that humor and that love will appear and sustain. Surrounding these memorable characters, his research into the environment of the First World War era is well done.
As a writer and as an actor Gene Wilder was a genius in any comedic situation. This novel shows that his genius extends to other highlights of human nature. As he said about his writing in a New York Times interview in 1999, “the more I’ve written, the more I’ve found that there is a deep well in me somewhere that wants to express things that I’m not going to find unless I write them myself.”
I wasn’t aware of Gene Wilder’s novels, and now I’m so glad to have discovered them and what they reveal about this talented man.
Thereby hangs a tale . . . .
Wendy Kendall is a writer, project manager and volunteer at the Edmonds Library. Follow her via her blog here or on Twitter @wendywrites1.