A French Wedding: A Novel

A French Wedding: A Novel

by Hannah Tunnicliffe

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385541855
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/06/2017
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 2,558
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

HANNAH TUNNICLIFFE is the author of two previous novels, The Color of Tea and Season of Salt and Honey. She is founder and co-author of the blog Fork and Fiction, which, unsurprisingly, explores her twin loves--books and food. She currently lives in New Zealand with her husband and three daughters.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Max

He is probably driving too fast, considering he isn’t on an autoroute, but he likes these back roads better. And he likes driving too fast. He likes the thrum of the engine coming up through the soles of his feet, through his legs, into his crotch. He likes gripping the steering wheel with just one hand, the wind biting the elbow of his other arm hanging out the window. This car, slick and red as lipstick, purrs.

Max is going to be late. The others will all be there soon, just as he had asked them to be, waiting for him. He can see them on the lawn, staring back at his country house, Juliette fetching them long, cool glasses of Pimm’s with fresh garden mint stuffed in. They will be travel weary but impressed. Eddie and whoever he’d said his new girlfriend was--the American one, Betty? Nina and Lars, bless them. Their kid, though she probably wasn’t a kid anymore. Hot Rosie and her awful husband, Hugo . . .

Helen.

 

Max had missed her earlier call but listened to the message. The deep, soft whir of Helen’s voice, edged by the effects of cigarettes and New York, saying she was looking forward to it, that frankly she needed a break. Telling him she’d be there by nightfall and that later she’d be picking up her sister, the half sister technically, Soleil. Max found it hard to pay attention to the details. Something shifted inside him at the sound of her voice. Something uncoiled.

 

Max rubs his eyes. He has been touring and drinking too much. He’s been operating on about five hours of sleep a night and it is no longer enough. The cocaine takes the edge off and keeps him awake, but he’ll lay off it after today; he has promised himself.

 

Max turns the music up even louder till he feels the blood pounding in his ears and blinks away tiredness. His eyes, those strange khaki-colored eyes, the color of dark bay leaves, of swamp water, are his father’s eyes. Not that he ever tells anyone that.

 

Helen is the only one of Max’s friends who knows about his father, his family. The whole lot of it. He can count on one hand the number of people who know much about his childhood. Him and his dad, Helen--that’s already three fingers. The other two are for social workers.

 

It never works to try not to think of something once you’ve started thinking about it. Max knows that from thinking about Helen every single day of his life since he can’t even remember when. Actually, that isn’t true. He does remember. It was summer. Helen was sitting next to Rosie on the grass in the common area outside one of the lecture blocks. She wore a long skirt hitched up to her thighs and she was laughing. Rosie’s hair was white blond and cut just like Debbie Harry’s on the Blondie record Max’s dad owned, while Helen’s was long and tangled at the back, dark as Christmas pudding, the kind other people’s families ate. She wore swingy earrings that moved when she did. Her thighs were the color of cream. Max watched her for longer than was socially acceptable. She must have felt his eyes on her. He remembers her getting up and walking over, barefoot. He remembers not being able to look away and grinning like a young boy, which he never did. Especially not when he was a boy. She asked him for a light and he pulled a green plastic lighter from his pocket. “I’m Helen,” she said.

 

Helen.

 

Helen.

 

Dear Helen.

 

Max has said her name in his head about ten million times since that day. He knows the texture of it in his mouth without even having to say it aloud. He knows how it would feel to call it out in the middle of lovemaking or to say it in a whisper into the pale shell of her ear, among the darkness of her hair. Max shudders. He feels himself growing harder and presses down on the accelerator.

 

Helen.

 

Max wills himself to stop thinking about her. It is stupid. It is always stupid. This is the hopelessness of trying not to think about something once you have started. His thoughts tip to the other end of the spectrum, like an hourglass suddenly turned.

 

Dad. Fucking Dad.

 

See? It’s impossible.

 

It didn’t start right away. It started when his mother left, when he was six and a half, or at least that’s how Max remembers it. His mother had been there, he tried to remember--she was a pretty murky, fuzzy kind of memory now--and then she wasn’t there. A snap of the fingers. A vanished mother. It was Max’s fault his mother had left; his father told him that often. And because of it his father beat him. It was one of the few reliable aspects of Max’s life. His dad had always been sullen, angry, but after that the rage poured out onto Max. His father beat him on the back, on the legs and stomach. He avoided Max’s face. He kicked him down the stairs and once held his head in the kitchen sink until Max was half drowned. There had been a used‑up tin of baked beans in the dirty water. Max’s father stomped on him; threw him against walls, doors, and the table; and whipped him with his belt. Or the cord of the toaster. Or the kettle. He called him names the kids at school hadn’t heard of yet.

 

One night Max’s father threw him out into the street. Max was twelve. For a brief moment he was elated, freedom like a bright taste in his mouth. Then he realized he was coatless and it was the middle of a London autumn, almost winter. He walked only half a block, the impossibility of leaving smacking at him, before turning around and trudging back to that wretched green door, then curling himself, shivering, on the doormat, waiting for his dad to let him back in. Max’s very worst moment of cowardice.

 

Max swerves. Christ. Was that a cat? Photographs of his mother, so few of them. Grainy ones with rounded corners; she seems to be looking past the camera. Perhaps she has already spotted her other life, the one she is going to escape them for. A photo of her at the seaside pulling windswept hair away from her mouth, wearing an orange-and-white-striped swimsuit. Another of her on a couch, holding Max as an infant. She has on a pale blue dress and black eyeliner and looks, somehow, emptied out. I don’t want this baby. This isn’t my life. There had been no one to tell Max why she left, exactly, and where she had gone. His recollections were strange and mixed up, and sometimes his brain pieced memories together out of those few photographs. Hadn’t they been to the seaside together? Eaten ice cream out of cones? Hadn’t she worn a yellow swimsuit, not an orange-striped one? The truth stuck too fast to fantasy.

 

Have we passed Rennes?

 

Passed?

 

Passed.

 

Past.

 

It is pointless to think about his mother, to wonder. What kind of woman leaves her child? What kind of woman leaves her child with a monster? It was a devil’s trade: Max’s life for hers. Max will probably never see either of his parents again, if they are still alive; will probably never live in England again. Paris is his home now and it suits him. The sky and slate roofs the same color, the lumps of still-soft dog shit on the pavement, the smell of coffee, baking bread, caramel, cigarettes, and urine. The women neat, with woolen coats, pretty scarves, slender legs in panty hose. Lips like ripe cherries. Paris will do.

 

That woman, his neighbor Claudine, the social worker with the cat she calls Pedro, would probably have something to say about all that--about his family, about the women--not to mention the coke. She likes to talk. She sings jazz in her spare time and knows her greats--Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone. She is always carrying bunches of fresh flowers. She likes those tall, strong-smelling white ones with the blossoms that look like popcorn. Her apartment was an inheritance from an aunt, she tells Max, happily handing out details about her personal life to anyone like leaflets she’s got plenty of. She smiles too much. Yes, Claudine would have plenty to say about Max’s personal life. But Max cannot trust a social worker, particularly one who smiles too much and lives with a man-cat for company.

 

 

 

 

The sign ahead reads saint-allouestre.

 

Max rubs his eyes again. He needs glasses but he won’t go to an optometrist. Helen has glasses she uses for reading now, round tortoiseshell ones. Everyone Max screws these days is in their twenties. They have skin lovelier than velvet, heavenly and unmarked. No pubic hair. Smooth all over. Narrow waists, hollow bellies. They don’t get old. Helen, on the other hand, is getting old at exactly the same rate as Max. She has lines around her eyes. The skin on the back of her hands has thinned, is becoming papery. But. Oh. All Max wants is to stand in the dark with her. In the dark they will be young again. Then he will run his thumb over her soft lips, unbutton her shirt, peel off her trousers. He will press her against him, sweet skin, full breasts, all of her against all of him. Feel her head on his chest, take in the Helen scent of her, lift her face to kiss her so deeply she can hardly breathe. Lift her onto him, carry her to where they can lay themselves down, fill her up till her head brims with stars.

 

“Helen.”

 

“Max.”

 

Helen will exhale his name in a whisper that moves through him like a current, reaching the very tips of him. Perhaps he will cry. Who wouldn’t? The sound that completes a person. Helen saying his name and making him finally feel so whole, so alive, that he fears running over, like a drawing escaping its edges.

 

“Max.”

 

The night suddenly bright. His head filled with stars too. Startling. Shining. Bursting . . .

 

A car horn blares like a wounded beast, tearing a large rip in his thoughts, causing him to swear and swerve and bump up against a curb that is closer than he had thought. His head swivels to catch sight of the car headed in the opposite direction, righting itself; the arm out the window, the middle finger raised; the driver cursing. Max’s heart races, his breath is ragged. He flicks on the turn signal, braking and pulling to the side of the road and bumping over the grass. He blinks and then laughs.

 

Max glances at the passenger seat to make sure the small velvet box is still there. It has rolled into the crease of the chair, the closed mouth of it turned up to him. Max smiles. His plan is safe and so is he.

 

Max closes his eyes for a nap, to sober up. To pull down the screen on the past, his childhood, his father. He drifts into fantasies of Helen. His future. A new decade: his forties. Sleep strokes at his body and his mind.

 

He still has an erection.

 

 

London, 1995

 

 

Max very nearly didn’t make the gig. He’d been drunk or hungover or both. But he got there, getting to gigs being one of the very few things Max could be relied on for, and that was the night there was the record producer in the crowd. They’d almost had a break like that before but it had turned to nothing--all talk and no action, no contract, no cash. Still, it had piqued Max’s interest. It made him think it was possible and encouraged him to get to gigs despite being wasted, getting over being wasted, and all the increasingly fewer shades in between. It made him curious just to turn up and see. Besides which, playing music and performing made Max feel the most like himself. There weren’t many things like that.

 

There was a big crowd that night. The band had been getting larger and larger crowds, but there was always the memory of playing to just a handful of people, the unease that it might happen again.

 

The guys were there, the usuals. Helen, back from a trip to India, her long hair in braids. Lars and Nina, the odd couple. Lars--tall and lean; Nina--short and plump. Him fair, her dark; laid-back contrasted with frank and earnest. Good old Eddie, of course, distracted and disheveled as always. Rosie was going to call in later; she had a date. Max couldn’t help but look out for her in that mass, her small, precise frame and blond hair, the way she made everyone else look a little messy in comparison. They weren’t close, Max and Rosie, had never really been close, but he felt better when they were all there. Rosie was dating a doctor, Helen said. Helen also said the guy was an “uppity prick,” while Nina reported he was nice enough. Max had never met the bloke but agreed with Helen nonetheless. Helen knew her way around uppity pricks. She was an expert.

 

Everything came together that night and that wasn’t just the booze talking, though it always helped. The band was getting along really well, best they ever had. The crowd was into it, which didn’t always happen. They were all one energized mass, moving together like a school of fish, a murmuration of starlings. And within it, the guy from the record label Parlophone, watching and listening. Not that they knew it at the time. When Max squinted and put his palm up against the lights, he was looking only for his friends’ faces--Lars was the easiest to spot. Not only was he the tallest but his smile had a wattage unmatched by anyone else.

 

 

 

Afterward, when the band was all wet with sweat and sucking on beer bottles like hungry babies, all of them backstage and stoked, fucking stoked, the Parlophone guy introduced himself. He wanted to see them in his office next week. His name was Bob, a name that proved he must be a suit, that he must be for real. Besides, Bob knew his music. Bob talked about the Jacks like he’d been at all their rehearsals, had listened in when they’d made decisions about including this or excluding that. Bob said they sounded like David Bowie and Chrissie Hynde had had a love child and that child had been raised by Keith Richards and Stevie Nicks, said they seemed to be the only ones not doing the Britpop thing. He had them nailed. And he wanted them; Max could see it in Bob’s hungry eyes. Max knew when a person wanted a piece of him. It was what made him so good with women. Bob gave them a business card each. He wrote down “Wednesday, 2:30 p.m.” on the back of each one with a black Biro that left ink on Max’s sweaty fingers. After Bob said good-bye they all fell apart laughing like it was the funniest, stupidest thing they had ever seen or heard. But they knew it was something. Max knew it was for real, knew it in his bones.

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A French Wedding: A Novel 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
gaele More than 1 year ago
Intrigued by the blurb and the teased wedding, I thought that the surprise bride and reconnection of college friends would provide a novel rich in depth and emotion, all backed up with the scenery and food. Unfortunately, from the beginning to end, this story was a mess. Third person voice for each character with no distinction between them made the story awkward: better suited to a third person omniscient narration. Then we add in characters – so flat as to be wooden, and utter stereotypes to boot. It’s fine to have one or two secondary characters that are “just” that, but when no effort to provide distinction or depth is evident, then I’m left frustrated, hoping that the dialogue may just give a bit of personality or oomph. And then, the dialogue is wholly inappropriately phrased and felt as if it were ripped from the mid 1800’s: antiquated words (indubitably?!!), too much back and forth, repetition and no actual appearance of an emotional investment in the statements so casually bandied about. And while these are workable in the most part, if the story crafting and plot are moving forward, with big secrets and reveals appearing for each character, the story would have had some redeeming features. But, the ham-handed foreshadowing, the all tell no show writing and the absolute lack of forward motion with the plot all contributed to a lack of interest for this reader. As I was reading, I kept wanting to skim and skip over the over-long passages that just felt like ‘filler’, none of those passages added to drive the plot forward, or bring a wandering thread around to a point. What I was left with was the feeling that this book was written to a word count, without consideration of characters, readers or an editor’s touch. Not a great introduction to this author’s work, but I find myself uninterested in trying another title. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review. All conclusions are my own responsibility.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Juliette runs a very nice restaurant in Paris called Delphine. She has always loved to cook since she was a girl growing up in Brittany on the west coast of France. Sadly, her mother is very ill and in the hospital. Therefore, she must go to Brittany and help her father take care of her. Not long after her mother passes away, her father follows. During that time, Juliette has decided to sell her restaurant and remain in Brittany. She knows all of the people in her town and all of the markets and great foods. Soon, she sees an ad for a housekeeper/chef for a wealthy rock star, Max, at his large home in her town and she is happy to get the job. Max and a number of his college friends are heading to his home to help celebrate his 40th birthday. The one person Max is anxious to see is Helen. He has always loved her but theirs is a friendship-only relationship. Now, he plans to propose to her. As the couples arrive, they spend time catching up and talking about the fun they had during their college days. Most everyone seems to be having fun, but one husband is bored because he met and married his wife later and does not know these other people well. The anger between him and his wife makes for some tension. As the days pass, we see that things are not perfect for everyone. But, whose life is perfect? Ah, but the highlight is Juliette as she prepares beautiful meals using local seafood and produce. The platters of fresh caught shellfish, homemade breads, perfectly cooked vegetables and luscious cheese plates are all described perfectly. I was drawn to this book because I have enjoyed visiting the Brittany area several times and loved the local seafood and lamb. Quite honestly, I found the conversations and the problems the friends have to be mundane and rather boring. But again, the food descriptions are delicious. Copy provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Deb-Krenzer More than 1 year ago
The blurbs compared this book to "The Big Chill" and that is exactly a correct statement. While I saw the movie, I just remember a bunch of friends getting together for a reunion, not much more. In this story, a group of six friends (and their spouses/and or girlfriends and children) get together to celebrate Max's 40th birthday. It has been years since they have all been together and are able to pick up right where they left off. There is also another plot going on with Juliette (Max's chef, who also attends to the house while Max is gone and at home) whose life has changed drastically with the death of her parents coinciding so closely. Some of the outliers (husbands and girlfriends), okay a husband of one of the main six is really quite the arse and I loved reading the ending and finding out his fate. :) The story was well written and had me engrossed from the beginning. The characters really came to life for me and I enjoyed hanging out with them. While these six people have known each other for a long time, do they really KNOW each other? Lots of secrets, discussions and downright fist fights come about with this reunion, some good, some bad. Huge thanks to Doubleday Books and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.