cover image Sevigne Letters

Sevigne Letters

William Eisner. Baskerville Publishers, $18 (201pp) ISBN 978-1-880909-27-0

Franklin Reeber, a 25-year-old Boston engineer turned budding novelist in Paris, is easily seduced by his 69-year-old landlady, Mme. Honorine Colmar, a cultivated eccentric who consults tarot cards and makes love to boarders under the watchful eye of her silent husband, a retired math professor. Mme. Colmar's life has odd parallels to that of Mme. de Sevigne, the famed 17th-century epistolary chronicler of French society: both were born on the same day of the year, both were orphaned and raised by grandparents and so forth. Set in 1950, strewn with references to Joe DiMaggio and Douglas MacArthur, steeped in cultural allusions from Moliere to Baudelaire, Eisner's engaging debut novel is both a stylish, elegant entertainment, at once sensual and cerebral, and a compelling morality tale about the betrayal of trust. Franklin's girlfriend, Lea Mervaud, a money-hungry graduate student who sells the not-yet-approved drug cortisone on France's black market, convinces him to steal Mme. Colmar's family heirloom, a cache of letters written by Mme. de Sevigne. The theft triggers unforeseen events that change the lives of all. In the bittersweet final chapter, Franklin, now 67, runs into Lea, whom he has not seen in over 40 years-an encounter Eisner exploits to devastating ironic effect. (Dec.)