McAlmon, Robert.”The Nightinghouls of Paris”, University of Illinois press, 2007.
Memoir as Fiction
Paris in the late 1920’s and 30’s was home to many Americans who chose to become the expatriates. The group included many famous American authors including Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. Paris also became home to a group of gay men and women who were disgruntled with what was happening in America.
Robert McAlmon fictionalized the era in “The Nightinghouls of Paris” and it is quite a read. It is thinly fictionalized memoir of the darker side of the lives of the expatriates in France. The story begins in 1928 and follows the changes in the lives of two Canadian youth, John Glassco and Graeme Taylor while they both aspired to become writers. In Paris they meet Robert McAlmon who shows the around and introduces them to the writers and artists in residence
When McAlmon fled Paris in the late 40’s he lost his manuscripts for this book ad redrafted it from memory. It then sat as a typescript at Yale University. It has now been edited by Sanford J. Smoller who also wrote an introduction. Here s a special and unusual book in that it manages to bring anonymity and reality together. The book concentrates on the racial, national and social picture that the expatriates faced daily.
McAlmon, himself, was a publisher of the avant-garde with his establishment of the Contact Publishing Company. He was a friend and a publisher to many and he is a writer in his own right. Learning about him in this book made me want to seek out his other works and find out more about him. In this book he looks at the Paris that was. His writing his beautiful and he is a true intellectual. His portraits of his characters are sharply and beautifully drawn.
This is just an incredible book. He plays down the sexual aspects of the years in Paris but it is all there between the lines and this makes the book that much more wonderful. The reader is forced to supplement the text and n doing so almost becomes part of it.
My field of study in graduate school was exactly this period so the book was a gift to me. I thought I pretty well was acquainted with the period and the people but after reading this, I realized how much I still do not know. I have always wanted to have lived during that period with the expatriates and now I hunger for it even more. It was exciting and I can image sitting down to tea with Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Robert McAlmon.