Broken Windows. Sorry for that bout of black humor: a momentary defense against the atrocity. His section of the novel is set in February , when French Fries were even renamed Freedom Fries: The largest antiwar demonstration for fifty years; it is February 15, Yesterday, the U. Security Council. Beigbeder comes down firmly on the side of American culture but not politics , proclaiming rather implausibly in my personal view even the superiority of its literature, but strongly against its sense of chauvinism.
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Translated by Frank Wynne. True to type, he is infatuated with America, or at least with Walt Whitman and his yawping breed, a group that for Beigbeder includes everyone from Holden Caulfield to Sinatra to Kurt Cobain. As with many of our condescending European admirers, Beigbeder suffers from some grave lapses in taste. In short, Beigbeder is the very snapshot of a young middle-aged decadent on the make. Instead, it is a strange diptych that alternates between the diarylike maunderings of "Beigbeder" and a fictionalized account of the death of a father and his two boys who were breakfasting at Windows on the World, the restaurant once atop the north tower.
Beigbeder the narrator is, well, Beigbeder -- a shiftless, self-impressed intellectual, prone to rhapsodic introspection. The narrative ping-pongs back and forth between the two self-centered commitment-phobes. And if one chose to quote heartlessly from "Windows on the World" "I chew on Bubble Yum and the heartache of orphans" one could make it appear criminally asinine. And yet, almost in spite of himself, Beigbeder has happened onto something true. Filled us with doubt or certitude?
Turned us into knights of faith or utter libertines? In this translation by Frank Wynne, Beigbeder brandishes a new thesis or animating principle every few pages, only to drop it quickly.
At the heart of this utopianism was the promise of international jet-set sex, or luxurious and totally commitment-free bliss. For the lucky, International Playboyism means a life of total satiety.
For the rest of us, it means a life taunted by advertising, or the promise of a life of total satiety. By tantalizing us, jet-set utopianism kept us infantile, in a state of permanent longing. Beigbeder is himself simply the late-model version of the type, and he spends many pages flagellating this tendency out of himself. Yorston is more typical, with just enough of the International Playboy in him to lay waste to a decent marriage.
Among his final thoughts is a renunciation of his life as a divorced man and a sexual conquistador, by which he concludes, "I thought this was freedom, but no; it was loneliness.
And that is exactly why "Windows on the World," for all its posturing and glibness and rote tear-jerking, is so strangely moving. Stephen Metcalf, a regular contributor to the Book Review, is the book critic for Slate.
Windows on the World
His mother, Christine de Chasteigner, is a translator of mawkish novels Barbara Cartland et al. The prize is awarded annually to a promising young French author. Vincent Ravalec, Jacques A. Bertrand, Michel Houellebecq are among those who have won the prize. In , the tenth anniversary of the prize, it was awarded to the only American to ever receive it, Bruce Benderson. He worked for a few years as an editor for Flammarion.
'Windows on the World': French Twist