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Patrick deWitt on 'French Exit' and the attraction of the rich

Devina Heriyanto
Devina Heriyanto

The Jakarta Post

-  /  Sat, December 8, 2018  /  09:15 am
Patrick deWitt on 'French Exit' and the attraction of the rich

Patrick deWitt. (Courtesy of Bloomsbury/Palmer Lee)

Money is not a problem as long as you have it. This is the first thing that comes to mind upon reading Patrick deWitt’s French Exit. Centered on the mother-son pair Frances and Malcolm Price and their cat Small Frank, the novel follows what happens when the family is forced to leave their lavish Manhattan Upper East Side life in the United States for France.

The Jakarta Post talks to Patrick deWitt about his characters, wealth and the absurdities of life.

Q: Frances and Malcolm are awful characters, yet people seem to relate to them. Does this say more about their persona or just wealth?

A: The Prices aren’t awful to me; they earn their keep by being fascinating, by being not-boring. And this is why people crowd them; I believe, they want to be entertained. Also, when someone as charismatic as Frances shines her light on you, it’s very much like a narcotic and the inclination is to seek the sensation out again and again.

From the teen TV drama Gossip Girl to the recent box office hit Crazy Rich Asians, why do you think we are interested in the lives of rich people?

I remember, as a child, watching a show called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. This was a program where the grubby viewers were granted access to the palatial homes of the biggest pigs in the world. It was pure obscenity, and as I watched I would fantasize about the destruction of these homes — flamethrower, pickaxe, dynamite, wrecking ball. But it’s true that I couldn’t look away from the screen; there was something hypnotic about it.

The parent-child relationship here is surely a strange one. What inspired you to write it?

It occurred to me that this version of the parent/spawn connection hasn’t been documented properly. Most of the time, the parent/spawn narrative deals in the details of childhood. But what about what comes after? Is that not just as awful and interesting?

The names of the characters are surely something else, from the Price family to Dr. Touche. Which one is your favorite?

My favorite name in the book is Boris Maurus.

It seems odd that Frances really didn't love her husband and yet after his death, keeps the cat/husband vessel around. Why?

Well, for the novelty of it. One of the most powerful lawyers in the country is meowing for his dinner. By the end of the book, she wants him nearby so that she can murder him with her bare hands.

Read also: Commentary: How 'Crazy Rich Asians' educated the world

Flushing hundreds of dollars down the toilet is absurd. What is the most absurd thing you've personally witnessed in real life?

The 2016 [US] presidential election comes to mind.

Which part of the novel was hard to write? Why?

The hardest part of any novel, for me, is always the beginning. Once the process is underway, then the words come naturally, but the very start — addressing that first blank page and filling it — is truly awful. (wng)