cover image An American in Paris

An American in Paris

Margaret Vandenberg. Cleis Press, $14.95 (300pp) ISBN 978-1-57344-107-0

""If Radcliffe was my college, Paris has been my graduate school."" So ends Vandenburg's debut novel of a young art historian's sojourn among the Sapphic avant-garde movers and shakers of prewar Paris. Every icon of the period makes an appearance: Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Natalie Barney, Sylvia Beach, Adrienne Monnier, Bryher, Hemingway, Picasso, Juan Gris and James Joyce are only some of the luminaries who appear in salons, clubs, studios and lesbian nightclubs in the course of this amusing and fact-filled frolic. Henrietta ""Henri"" Adams, native of Utah, graduate of Radcliffe and seeker of Sappho's daughters, lands an assignment from En Vogue magazine to write a column covering the American involvement in the avant-garde art movement in Paris. In a first person, autobiographical style, she records her courageous attempts to recreate herself, being mentored in the process by Gertrude Stein. Vandenburg uses her heroine's proximity to the radical artists of the era to present her theories, ranging from connections between Cubism and psychoanalysis to the codification of sapphic sexuality. If all this academic information, painlessly conveyed, were not enough, Vandenburg also gives us plenty of sex. A deliciously explicit scene finds Henri discovering her sadomasochistic proclivities in a sinfully appointed club called Le Masque. Her education complete, Henri cuts her hair and plans a triumphant, uncloseted return to New York as editor of an avant-garde pressDjust in time to get in on the new queer scene unfolding in Greenwich Village. Did Kahnweiler really support his artists through a massive insurance scam? Was Hemingway actually a closet homosexual? Vandenburg, associate director of the writing program at Barnard College, offers more than a few choice tidbits of gossip, and if the characters and scenes never quite come to life, perhaps it's simply too much to ask of this academic romp. (Dec.)