For Paris—with Love and Squalor

M.J. Moore

Reviewed by Janet Garber

We’ll Always Have Paris

Our very own Neworld reviewer, M.J. Moore, has produced a heartfelt paean to the Greatest Generation, their service and sacrifices in the world wars, their heyday in the 30’s and 40’s, dancing to the beat of Tommy Dorsey and the other big band jazz and swing musicians. He even provides his own suggested soundtrack! He’s focused on recreating the era honestly, telling it “the way it really happened.”

Into the mix he stirs his love for Paris and his fascination with one particular Staff Sergeant and literary icon, J.D. Salinger, a/k/a “Jerry.” In one memorable scene taking place on August 28, 1944, he evokes a party celebrating the liberation of Paris attended by Salinger, Hemingway, Irwin Shaw, Picasso and his fictional protagonist of course.

Evidently a historian, musicologist, gifted researcher, and very gifted writer, Moore has chosen to recreate the era as seen through the eyes of an unnamed heroine, a former World War II WAC and retired college professor who, at 92, lies in hospice, dictating her memoirs into a cassette player.

He has given her one terrific voice—funny, charming, neither lesbian nor slut, contrary to the accepted view of WACS in those days—and the story flows effortlessly between her modern-day existence, befriending her nurses and interesting them in their country’s history and her accounts of the clearly remembered past.

He does a superb job of channeling the thoughts and emotions of this liberated-before-her-time woman—she was so real I couldn’t help but wonder if she was modelled on his mother or another beloved female relative. I am fairly certain that Moore himself did not live through this era, making this feat all the more remarkable. The female impersonation is of course not always one hundred percent successful; I myself did not feel totally convinced by the sex scenes. It was hard to ignore the suspicion that what I was reading was filtered through a male mind. But that’s a minor quibble in an excellent book.

Here’s an example of the main character’s distinctive voice:

Once, when I tried to tell my story to a fellow who was about my age (just a few years older, actually), he more or less accused me of “talking through the wine” and you can safely assume that I swiftly off-loaded that knucklehead. It was for the best. By that time, I was well into my fifties, and except for the oddly wonderful interlude with Sheridan O’Neill, later, when I was sixty, I’d written off men for the duration. Anyway, the plain truth is that for the rest of my life—and believe you me, it has been a long, long time—all I needed as a yardstick by which to measure anything wonderful or potentially wonderful was one single word: “Paris.” It’s my code word.

There is no doubt in my mind that this work represents a very personal project. Moore has skillfully relied on information gleaned about J.D. Salinger—his romancing of young girls, his many romantic liaisons, his mercurial and eccentric nature, and, bien entendu, his insistence on seclusion. He supports the thesis that Salinger’s fierce dislike of the publishing industry and determination to have none of the perquisites associated with the careers of famous authors reveal an inner struggle. Some scholars have speculated that Salinger came back from the war with a bad case of post-traumatic stress disorder and Moore works that possibility into his story.

All the characters are memorably drawn: the narrator’s non-stereotyped, enlightened parents, Pop, with his own case of depression after the war, Mom, who taught the narrator how to survive the small-mindedness of her religious school teachers, even the nurses and aides at the hospice. The narrator herself is the most memorable: a brainy, book-loving, unconventional free thinker, enamored of all the things our author finds most endearing about this period in American history. Moore does an exceptional job with recreating the language as it was spoken in that era and the preoccupations and concerns of the people living then.

Moore’s work has appeared in The Paris Review-Daily, the International New York Times, Literary Hub, and, the Neworld Review.

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