The novel is about a young woman's partial passage into adulthood. Because most of the events involve French people, French customs, and even French food, a second theme, Franco-American culture clash, is interwoven with the first. A third theme is the ambiguous nature of human motives and emotions. Isabel's recognition of this is part of her maturation, but it underlies the narrative so deeply that it can be seen as a separate theme.
When the story opens, Isabel Walker, a college dropout, has not yet found any direction for her life. She has vague ambitions of writing a screenplay. Like other young American visitors before her, she comes to Paris hoping it will "buff off the rough edges" of her education and make her more sophisticated. The visit is also a good way to avoid making decisions about her future. It is only by chance that Isabel arrives at her sister's apartment the day after Roxy's husband has left. Roxy goes into an emotional tailspin, but Isabel continues to be viewed as the one who needs help with her life. Their parents think so, Roxeanne hints at it more than once, and the Persands treat Isabel kindly, but as if she were very young and naive.
Naturally Isabel feels some resentment, but she goes on blithely exploring Paris. She struggles with the French language; she probes the mysteries of French cuisine; she finds small jobs working for fellow Americans, who offer their own explanations of strange behavior and of political...
(The entire section is 1087 words.)
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