13 rue Therese, by Elena Mauli Shapiro. Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books (February 2, 2011). Fiction, 288 pages. Hardcover.
13 rue Therese is a whimsical blend of historical artifacts and illusion that’s truly complicated to adequately describe. It’s rather quixotic as the main character, Parisian Louise Brunet becomes defined by an American scholar named Trevor Stratton through a box of letters and mementos he finds in his office. Stratton imagines Brunet as a woman who made poor decisions and now finds herself settled in a marriage that fails to excite her. She’s artistic and often selfish. She flirts with her new married neighbor, inadvertently seduces her teenage piano student and sometimes resists urges to escape her suffocating life and sometimes acts upon them. It’s all as imagined by this American. One has to wonder what the female perspective would add here. The box that Mr. Stratton finds has been left by his secretary who has tested several other potential partners in the same manner. I appreciate the concept and design of 13 rue Therese. I also admire author Elena Mauli Shapiro’s intentions. I just wish she’d pushed herself a bit further. Perhaps it’s the jarring usage of footnotes that removes me too far from the story. Shapiro also changes often from first to third-person story-telling perhaps in an intentional manner to make the desires and actions of the characters that much more mysterious. The modern language describing moments in Louise’s life doesn’t fit the time period [between WWI and WWII]. While inherently charming and creative, 13 rue Therese lacks a certain je ne c’est pas.