We barely have Paris

A beloved author tries out a beloved cliché

Toward the end of Patrick deWitt’s new novel, French Exit, its sexagenarian protagonist admits while she’s touring Paris’s Musée d’Orsay with a friend that her life might appear a cliché. “[And,] yes, my life is riddled by clichés,” Frances Price says, “but do you know what a cliché is? It’s a story so old and thrilling that it’s grown old in its hopeful retelling.”

That iffy definition of cliché is strange sugar-coating coming from the usually acerbic Frances. Yet it’s true that the broad strokes of Frances’s life will be old hat to anyone remotely familiar with that huge genre of fiction focused on wealth, its trappings, and its cyclical loss. Frances was born in New York City to privilege and married a litigator named Franklin Price who amassed a fortune via vague, unethical means. Twenty years before the book begins, Franklin was found by Frances dead in their bed, ostensibly killed by what the...