It's hard to believe this charming, quirky novel was written by the same woman who penned 1990's Stone Heart. While that volume was obvious and artless, this one is exquisitely detailed, delightfully unusual.
Michael and Lydie McBride are Americans in Paris on a plum assignment: Michael, an architect, has been commissioned to redesign a main salle of the Louvre. But Lydie, a photographer's stylist who ordinarily would be thrilled by such a trip, is depressed, at least partly because she is still mourning her father's suicide. Their marriage is further strained when Michael becomes besotted with a French biographer obsessed with her subject, a 17th-century femme fatale. Meanwhile, Lydie makes friends with Patrice d'Origny, an American woman married to a French jeweler, and the two decide to help Patrice's Filipino maid emigrate to the States.
If all this sounds complicated, it is only the blueprint for a book about the ambivalences of friendship and love.
Rice writes in a straightforward style that keeps the plot from veering into melodrama. True, much of the action is hyperdramatic: the ball Lydie stages for an advertisement; the appearance of her husband's lover at said ball; the climactic moment when Lydie picks up a rifle. But Rice never allows such surges to overpower what is a simple story about the intricacies of human attachments—especially the ones we take most for granted. (Viking, $19.95)