The Last Time I Saw Paris
This is a bland, uninspired rehash of a book I feel I’ve read dozens of times before, only this time it’s in hardback. Lara Lewis hits a crisis on her 45th birthday. Her husband Bill is emotionally distant and caught up in his work, and Lara realizes that she’s never accomplished any of the grand things she hoped for herself. All of her hopes are pinned on her 25th anniversary, when she and Bill will recreate their French honeymoon down to the last chateau and picnic spot. She’s afraid that Bill is having an affair, but has convinced herself that the magic of Paris will set everything right. Meanwhile she retreats to the family summer house in Carmel, where she meets local contractor Dan Holland as he repairs her sundeck.
Dan, thirteen years younger, is inexplicably drawn to Lara. She’s physically attractive enough, but all he ever sees her do is mope around the beach. The charm of this eludes me, but not Dan. By page 62 he’s making passionate, adulterous love to Lara, and based on two weeks’ acquaintance is convinced she’s the love of his life.
To be honest, adultery stories don’t bother me nearly as much as they do many of our readers – a lapse will not automatically turn me against a book. Phony, shallow emotions, however, will. After that love scene comes this gem:
“I’m not sure what love is,” he said softly, “but somehow I think I’ve found it.”….
“I don’t know what love is either,” she whispered. “All I know is I want what I have with you tonight.”
Yeah, this is really endearing. Dan’s known Lara for two weeks and has yet to have a meaningful conversation with her. Lara has a husband and two kids and one would hope that her experiences would have given her some inkling of love. But apparently not.
This problem resurfaces throughout the book. Dan and Lara constantly lay claim to emotions that, in the reader’s eyes, they simply haven’t earned. When Lara feels guilty over cheating on Bill, Dan storms out in a huff. Still, when Lara invites him to go to Paris with her (omitting the fact that they will be recreating her honeymoon), Dan agrees to go.
What follows is chapter upon chapter of the sort of mundane travel adventures that will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever sat through a long-winded acquaintance’s vacation slides. Dan and Lara are captivated by the food they eat, the clothes they buy, the little disasters they overcome. But very little of this is described evocatively enough to capture the reader’s interest as well. A reader hoping to steal away on a literary vacation would be better off with Peter Mayle, M.F.K. Fisher, or Bill Bryson.
A reader hoping for a good romance is doomed to even greater disappointment. Lara is convinced she can never hold the interest of the younger man who was declaring his love back on page 62. Dan is sure he can never be as polished or sophisticated as Lara’s husband – you know, the one she’s cheating on with him. Bill is just like every other unsympathetic soon-to-be-ex spouse in a bargain-basement romance, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. No sooner has Lara stepped on the plane that she begins to remember what a disaster her honeymoon really was with the workaholic rat. Sure, it would have saved a lot of time and expense if she’d realized this before planning her trip, but if she had we wouldn’t have a story.
Judging by other reviews on this site, it sounds as though the author may be more comfortable writing romantic suspense than pure romance/women’s fiction like this. While her writing style is fluid enough, there simply are no outstanding qualities to justify the hardback price. Those who would like to eat and shop vicariously across France may wish to pick up the paperback, but there are a number of travel and food writers who do the job better.