Set in Paris, Drake's story centers on the broken marriage of a society beauty who works in fashion and a corporate executive, fanatically devoted to health and fitness. The couple are fighting over Paul, their teenage son, who narrates the tale. Gabriel, Paul's mother's boyfriend--a young and feckless rock musician--tells Paul to come to the hospital to meet Lou, Paul's new baby half-sister. Gabriel calls Lou his "little princess," but there's a sense of disquiet as Paul's mother, Severine, watches her boyfriend from over the top of her mobile. Paul has us reveling in their stunning narcissism and sense of entitlement.
Paul's father is a hard, dedicated worker, but he's also strikingly self-absorbed, negating any plausible excuses he might have for neglecting Paul. Paul is sweet-natured and kindly, but he has an eating disorder, perhaps caused by an angry Severine. Paul certainly admires and even loves his mother. He tells us how she gets a table in a restaurant when it is fully booked, and about Severine's rigid, "hot, molten anger" toward Gabriel. Paul is convinced he could have saved his mother's marriage if only he had the words.
At La Baule, an exclusive beauty retreat where people pay money to get "their cellulite hosed down with a cold power jet," Paul connects with old school friend Scarlett Lacasse. Like Severine, Scarlett exudes a glamorous aura; she wears glistening pink lip gloss and smells of sweet perfume. Paul doesn't want to let Scarlett out of his sight, or out of his life now that she's here. He's convinced that he needs Scarlett. She knows what this is about, what it means. And Scarlett can tell him about an article she's read or a television program: "it wasn't you Paul, it wasn't you that made this happen."
If nothing else, Drake's novel reminds us that even those at the pinnacle of privilege can also feel sensitive and alienated. Paul is taking things too far, flunking his math exams and failing to actually connect with anyone apart from Scarlett, who seems to be the only person who can charm him out of his depressive moods. It's a graphic depiction of the thing Paul seems to want to do--to garner attention from his parents as he attempts to drive over the precipice from childhood to adulthood--before it is too late. Paul can't seem to find a worthwhile adult to emulate anywhere: "They just couldn't handle it, it was like me being a failure made them a failure too."
Scarlett admits that she gets the same sort of treatment. She needs to work harder, because success comes only through striving. Paul's father wants him to be a winner: "I'm bad a math and I can't play good tennis and my dad loves tennis. I am not what they wanted me to be. I don't live up to them." Paul confides to Scarlett that his parents want him to see someone--a nutritionist, a doctor. He needs to be on a diet. The problem is that he has no discipline, no self-control. Paul wonders if the real disappointment is not so much him as a son but "never having been the light of his father's life." Severine wants everything to be pristine and ordered; she's like "a rubber band stretched tight."
Drake melds the seedier side of Paris, where sex is for sale and where rich old people live, with Paul's home, the more salubrious Jardin du Luxembourg, a "kind of fairy tale place." To that end, visually, the novel is often at Paul's street level. The adults exist only in as much as they are observed though Paul's perceptions. He's the sort of boy who can walk into a room and watch what's going on before anyone notices him, especially in the case of his wildly self-involved parents. Paul often describes, in infinite detail, his annoyances, bewilderment, insecurities, frustrations, all encapsulated around his sad pleasure in eating junk food: "my liquid rage; it will pour out like lava onto the table; it will drip down onto my father's handmade leather shoes." From Scarlett's shocking betrayal to his father's intimate, personal secret, Paul's uncertain future raises more questions than answers. Perhaps this is in keeping with the story's emotional honesty, though Drake largely leaves us to be the observer in the complicated fragments of Paul's dysfunctional family puzzle.
The author writes a truly heartbreaking story of a confused and lonely fellow as he tries to deal with the disillusionment of adolescence. Through the underlying relationship between the neurotic Severine and the nonchalant, shallow Gabriel, there is a tragic element exemplified in Drake's portrayal of Paul's own particular brand of eloquence, which is imbedded deep into the texture of the novel's prose.