The character of John Reynolds forms the core of “The Gardens of Mont-Saint-Michel,” in which he and his family travel to France and visit the famed abbey. During this trip, Reynolds feels disappointment at the commercialism that now detracts from the area where he and his wife had earlier experienced an idyllic honeymoon. As in so much of William Maxwell’s work, the story centers on character development, with little emphasis on plot.
In a humorous opening scene, Reynolds strains to drive a rented Volkswagen bus on unfamiliar streets, fearing an accident and suffering from a cramped leg. His charming wife, Dorothy, eccentric daughters Allison and Trip, and niece Linda Porter are unaware of his distress.
The story alternates between positive and negative events. On the way to Mont-Saint-Michel, the travelers pass through Pontorson, where the couple had stayed briefly on their honeymoon. Reynolds fondly recalls the kindness and friendly assistance of the hotel staff. However, increased traffic and widened streets have now rendered their once quaint hotel nearly unrecognizable.
As the family proceeds, they see that nondescript new houses have replaced the beautiful old farmhouses that once lined the French roadside. Rows of tourist buses indicate crowded conditions at their destination. The first view of the abbey is breathtaking, but it soon disappears behind the facade of a new hotel. On arrival at Mont-Saint-Michel, Reynolds...
(The entire section is 595 words.)