cover image Finding Fontainebleau: An American Boy in France

Finding Fontainebleau: An American Boy in France

Thad Carhart. Viking, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-42880-0

American casualness and exuberance meet French formality and grandeur in this lively, perceptive memoir, a prequel to the author’s The Piano Shop on the Left Bank. In the 1950s, Carhart’s family spent three years in the French town of Fontainebleau, where his father, a U. S. Air Force colonel, was stationed. His reminiscences recreate the culture clash between the family from expansive, affluent American suburbia and dense, culturally rich, but economically pinched post-war France, with its precise manners, rigid schooling (the rambunctious young author got terrible deportment marks), cozy shops, tiny cars (the family Chevy station wagon swam like a whale among minnows), holy relics, heavenly food, squalid bathrooms, and riotous puppet shows. (Road trips to Italy and Spain add catacombs and bullfights to the list of novelties.) Carhart returns in adulthood to view the restoration of Château Fontainebleau, the 800-year-old residence of kings and emperors. His memoir intermingles stories of French royalty, reportage on the conservators’s painstaking reconstruction of original decor, and effusive architectural appreciations. Carhart’s meandering, warmly evocative anecdotes register both the quirkiness of France’s traditions and the civilizing, humanizing influence they exert. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME. (May 17)