Who is she? She’s intellectual, cool, and a bit of a romantic, but she doesn’t give her approval easily or smile too much. She might run around in black-tipped Chanel slingbacks, or barefoot if she’s on vacation. She has a signature perfume. She eats cheese without abandon and nurses a single glass of wine all night because she’s a master of reasonable indulgences. She’s almost always white, hetero, and thin, and you can only conjure her by willfully ignoring the many French women whose daily routines do not involve bicycling along the Seine in miniskirts with baguettes tucked under their arms.
But the French Girl’s influence is tangible. She makes money for big American drugstore chains, department stores, independent brands, book publishers, magazines, and digital media companies. She definitely has something to do with the fact that rosé, sales of which outpaced the rest of the wine market last year, has become so popular in the US.
The obsession has become a business, and in that sense, the French Girl is perfectly real.
Designers and architects choose them for the wow-factor, rather than for any inherent advantage. A single one costs around $900,000 to install—at least four times the cost of an ordinary escalator.
Technically, the spiral escalator is stupidly twiddly. They require considerable, highly skilled manual labor that can’t be replicated in a factory: artisanal escalation. And there are plenty of things that can go wrong. “If there is even a slight discrepancy, they just won’t move,” Kudo says.
I was determined to understand this birthright, including what was toxic in it, as completely as possible. I’m now an English professor at Harvard, and in recent years some of my students have seemed acutely anxious when they are asked to confront the crueller strains of our cultural legacy. In my own life, that reflex would have meant closing many of the books I found most fascinating, or succumbing to the general melancholy of my parents. They could not look out at a broad meadow from the windows of our car without sighing and talking about the number of European Jews who could have been saved from annihilation and settled in that very space. (For my parents, meadows should have come with what we now call “trigger warnings.”) I was eager to expand my horizons, not to retreat into a defensive crouch. Prowling the stacks of Yale’s vast library, I sometimes felt giddy with excitement. I had a right to all of it, or, at least, to as much of it as I could seize and chew upon. And the same was true of everyone else.
I already had an inkling of what I now more fully grasp. My experience of mingled perplexity, pleasure, and discomfort was only a version—informed by the accidents of a particular religion, family, identity, and era—of an experience shared by every thinking person in the course of a lifetime. What you inherit, what you receive from a world that you did not fashion but that will do its best to fashion you, is at once beautiful and repellent. You somehow have to come to terms with what is ugly as well as what is precious.
In an era of inflationary cheap praise, in which every run-of-the-mill thriller is advertised as some sort of Nobel-worthy combination of Shakespeare, Scott Turow and, inevitably, “Gone Girl,” “The Sisters Chase” is that rare thing, a slow burner that conceals its cunning and sneaks up on you unawares.
“You see, I have a condition,” Tom Hazard, the narrator of this engaging novel, confesses on page one. He is quasi-immortal. “I am old – old in the way that a tree, or a quahog clam, or a Renaissance painting is old. I was born well over four hundred years ago, on the third of March 1581 …” For every 13 or 14 human years, he ages one year. But far from bringing him godlike pleasure, his condition places him at a mournful distance from the rest of humanity, doomed to see everyone he loves age and die. Yep, this is one for fans of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.