Lily King’s first novel, The Pleasing Hour, is the third of her four novels I have had the distinct pleasure of reading. King grew up in Massachusetts and received a B.A. in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M.A. in creative writing from Syracuse University. She has taught at a number of schools and colleges. Lily has also racked up a number of regional awards as well as a MacDowell Fellowship and a Whiting Award.
Rosie anguishes over her sister Sarah’s inability to conceive a child. Rosie seems a bit shy, but she hatches a plan to help her sister, whom she dearly loves. She doesn’t date, but she selects an equally shy young man, and after a few dates, Rosie convinces him to sleep with her. Two weeks later she finds she is pregnant. She tells Sarah and her husband she wants them to keep and raise the baby. Rosie lies to her boyfriend and convinces him the baby is not his. She goes through counseling and insists on giving the baby to her sister. After the birth, the baby is taken away from Rosie after holding him briefly, but she has only has a fleeting moment of regret. As the narrator, Rosie barely mentions the baby. Then Rosie abruptly answers an ad for a jeune fille – an au paire – in a small town, Plaire, France, and she abandons her plan to attend college. She neither speaks nor reads French. With the help of the children Rosie cares for, she slowly learns to speak and read and do the shopping for the family.
The Pleasing Hour is an apt title for this novel. Numerous times I would read a passage, put the book aside, and turn the page over again in my mind. These passages were “pleasing” in more ways than one. Rosie had no friends, but Nicole, the mother of the family, makes a call, and a jeune fille , who worked for a friend, called Rosie and offered to take her out on the town, King writes, “The metro stop was unmarked. a sudden flight of stairs descended beneath the sidewalk. A monthly pass came with the job, and I had used mine twice. I slid the orange ticket through the meter in the turnstile and hurried down the hallway marked Gare d’Austerlitz. There was only one line at this stop, so the passageways were small and without vendors or musicians, though the walls were plastered with the same enormous advertisements: on the left was a poster for an Italian movie, one large breast held in a man’s hand, and on the right a yogurt ad. They were repeated for the entire walk to the rails. Spoon, lip, smirk, litter, wind corridor, wrist nipple, wind, sign, trench coat, slouch. I let English flood inside me as I rounded the corner” (50). This brings back memories of my first time in the Paris Metro.
Rosie also spends a chapter describing each of the children she handles, as well as Nicole and Marc, the parents. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Rosie is nursing a crush on Marc. Nicole seems withdrawn from Marc, who works long hours in a hospital. The family decides to take a vacation to Spain, and they invite Rosie to come along. At first Rosie seems reluctant, and she deliberately leaves her passport at home. As they approached the airport, she announces the missing document, but Marc turns around, goes home, and gets her passport. Lily King’s novel, The Pleasing Hour is definitely a wonderful way to arm chair travel. 4-1/2 Stars
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