“Paris for One & Other Stories” by Jojo Moyes; Pamela Dorman Books (170 pages, $25)
Jojo Moyes’ novels are funny and romantic, but their real subject matter, the undercurrent bobbing beneath the jokes and the meet-cutes, is slightly more consequential. In such books as “Me Before You,” its sequel “After You,” and “One Plus One,” Moyes is also examining how young women find the courage to square off against class, culture, sexism and family pressures to forge their own paths – and how they live more contentedly for it.
“Paris for One & Other Stories” – published now for the first time in the United States – follows that familiar pattern, which means it’s dreamy escapism, a book you can curl up with and easily finish over a weekend, with or without a glass of wine (I recommend with). The breezy novella “Paris for One” is the main event, but the other stories, amusing anecdotes about relationships, marriage and the allure of escape, run along the similar lines.
In “Paris for One,” we meet Nell, a British risk management specialist who takes her job skills to extremes. She is an organizer, a worrier, the sort of person who plans ahead of time what sort of sandwich she’ll get at lunch (salmon and cream cheese on a Tuesday? Never). “That girl has not had a wild moment in her life,” one of her (male) co-workers says dismissively. She’s never even been away for a weekend with a boyfriend. On an impulse, she decides to rectify this failing, purchasing train tickets to Paris and booking a hotel room (only after reading every review on TripAdvisor, of course).
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What Nell hasn’t done is note her boyfriend Pete’s distinct lack of enthusiasm about the endeavor. So when he stands her up, she’s ready to turn back and head home to England. Who wants to be in Paris alone? But “Paris for One” is vintage Moyes, and so the City of Light seduces Nell into staying. A few baguettes, some dancing, an art exhibit and one handsome Frenchman later, Nell is pretty happy about her decision – but what will she do when the weekend is over?
Betrayal is a common denominator in these stories. In “Between the Tweets,” an IT specialist tries to track down the person claiming she had an affair with a well-known TV personality. A married woman confronts her illicit past at a party in “A Bird in the Hand,” and in “Thirteen Days With John C,” a bored wife finds a cell phone and resumes the owner’s love affair by text.
For uplift, though, turn to “Crocodile Shoes” (in which a woman’s life is transformed by a pair of Louboutins) and “Last Year’s Coat” (in which a working-class family struggles through financial difficulty). Moyes isn’t saying that clothes make the woman so much as reminding us that we should take advantage of the smallest push to seize the day.