Three Bedrooms in Manhattan

by Georges Simenon
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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 774

Three Bedrooms in Manhattan is semiautobiographical, based on Simenon’s meeting with his second wife, Denise Ouimet. In Simenon’s role is French actor François Combe, a man jilted by his more-famous French actress wife. He has come to New York to escape his demons, not to mention his former wife, her younger lover, and the French press.

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Combe has been in the city for several weeks, moving into a series of more decrepit apartments. He is ashamed to have anyone see his latest residence. He walks into a neighborhood bar late one night to escape the squalor. Sitting at the bar is a fairly attractive woman, and she strikes up a conversation with Combe. Her name is Katherine, but Combe likes to call her Kay.

Simenon describes the chance encounter of two desperately lonely people. As Kay is perched on her barstool, temporarily homeless, she tells herself that she will become attached to the next man she meets. She meets Combe. Meanwhile, Combe tells himself that he is just visiting New York, and he can go home and resume his career any time he wants. He spends his days drinking and carousing with his fellow French show business expatriates. Combe is more than fifty years old now and unbelievable in leading man roles. He is reduced to walk-on character parts requiring a middle-aged Frenchman. Kay calls him Frank.

Their first night together resembles a forced march through a desert; the hot, unforgiving desert is replaced by the cold night and the equally unforgiving city streets. They latch on to each other like two people who are drowning, each hoping the other knows how to swim. Clinging to each other, they walk and walk, stop for a drink, play a tune on the jukebox, and repeat the process over and over until the sun comes up and exhaustion claims them.

Since she has no home and he is ashamed of his, they find a seedy hotel. It is their first bedroom in Manhattan. After passionate love making, they fall asleep as the city awakens to start the day.

After the initial thrill of the physical encounter, Kay and Frank speed through the early stages of romance. Frank is the more emotionally damaged of the two. He is tormented by his failed marriage, and he is deeply paranoid and distrustful of Kay. He imagines her past dalliances, and they haunt him. His jealousy is wild and threatens to destroy their relationship before it has a chance to grow.

After only two days, Frank realizes that Kay loves him. In a few short days, Frank and Kay go through all the stages of young love: blind romance, all-consuming physical fire, and hopeless addiction to each other. Frank can not stand to be away from her. He is afraid to leave her alone, afraid he will return to find her gone.

As they begin to settle into a routine in his apartment, Kay receives word that her only child, her daughter, is gravely ill in Mexico. She must be with her. Frank realizes she must go, and he grudgingly takes her to the airport, and with fear he watches her walk away. As the days pass without her, his doubts return with a vengeance. He spends the aching hours alone, and he begins to revert to his life before Kay, drinking heavily and carousing with theater friends.

While with his friends, he talks of nothing but Kay, and a pretty young woman listens intently. Her name is June. Still professing his great love for Kay, he takes June to his and Kay’s bedroom. They make love, and the next morning while still lying in bed together, the telephone rings. It is Kay. She is on her way home. She hears something in Frank’s voice and asks him what is wrong. He tells Kay nothing that he should. June leaves, and Frank decides to tell Kay everything.

Frank takes Kay directly from the airport back to the diner where they first met. They walk and they drink much as they did that first night, and they finally arrive at the apartment, and he has not cleaned up the mess. Everything is just as he and June left it, as if to say, “Here is what I have done. Deal with it.”

Kay deals with it. It is at this moment that Frank says to Kay what he has never said: He loves her. He says it, and he means it. Through the night, they stay in the apartment, though not on the bed. They leave first thing the next morning, closing the door behind them.

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