Gary Shteyngart was still wearing his awkward U.S. newbie ID…
By now, I’ve read several books with plots that can be summed up as, “Hey, I lived in Paris!” Rosencrans Baldwins’ Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down follows the general outline of the genre – how could it not? – but rises above those limitations to become one of the better variations on the theme.
When we meet Baldwin, he has just landed a job at a Paris advertising agency despite limited experience in advertising and even more limited experience in French.
The plot is really not worth discussing any more than that (in fact, parts of it are profoundly uninteresting), but Baldwin’s observations create a sense of romance, drama and je ne sais quoi that distinguishes travelogues from guidebooks. In his Paris, half-moons rise “like a pearl in black underwater” and “dusk blooms on otherwise pale streets.” Evenings smell like roast spices, or seafood cooking in wine, and leaves “spin in twister and magnetize to building corners.” I appreciate that Baldwin doesn’t overindulge in rhapsodizing over Notre Dame, the chic nature of French women or the cosmopolitanism of everyday life. His observations are smaller and more precise and therefore create a picture that is more lifelike and more keenly felt than the images of Paris the rest of the world knows by heart.