The essential plot is a memoir of events recalled by the narrator in the year 1952. The narrator indicates in the initial paragraph that he wants to dedicate the following autobiographical account “to the memory” of his “ribald” stepfather, the late “Bobby” Agadganian, who married his mother after her divorce from his father in 1920.
After the Wall Street crash, Agadganian ceased being a stockbroker and took up a new occupation as agent-appraiser for a group of independent American art galleries. This necessitated, in 1930, a family move to Paris. Thus, the narrator had lived for more than nine years in Paris when he moved back to New York with his stepfather in the spring of 1939.
The cultural and social feelings of dislocation are considerable for this bright, bilingual nineteen-year-old boy as he attempts to come to terms with rude bus conductors, New York crowds, and art instruction at a school that he “loathes.” In his spare time, he draws countless self-portraits in oils. The rapport between the narrator and his stepfather begins to deteriorate as they are “both in love with the same deceased woman” and both living in the cramped space of the same New York hotel room.
The narrator, after enduring life with Bobby for ten months in the Ritz Hotel, answers an ad in a Montreal paper for an instructor at a correspondence art school. Bilingual instructors are apparently being hired to coincide with the opening of the June summer session.
“Instantly, feeling almost unsupportably qualified,” the young aspirant applies, enclosing examples of both academic and commercial art work (“lean, erect, super-chic couples” in evening clothes and “laughing, high-breasted girls”). He falsifies most of the biographical information in his personal and career resume, pretending to be related to the French painter Honore Daumier and feigning a close friendship with Pablo Picasso. His application accepted, “De Daumier-Smith” prepares to entrain for Montreal and informs Bobby...
(The entire section is 834 words.)