On Rebecca Bischoff’s “The French Impressionist”

Image courtesy of Goodreads.com

As a whole, The French Impressionist failed to rise to its own potential. The concept of a 15-year-old girl with speech apraxia is a natural fit for the YA genre, but it’s something I’ve never seen done before. Unfortunately, the strength of Bischoff’s descriptive narrative and internal dialogue wasn’t enough to salvage the entire story.

To her credit, Bischoff created a character that was simultaneously unlikable and sympathetic. Her lies are insidious and abhorrent (especially in Zander’s case), but the rage that flows through her makes her bad behavior understandable to an extent. This “angst” as one review pointed out, is necessary, but verges on caricature. As a teenager, her actions would have seemed to me to be necessary. But as an adult, I just wanted to shake her half the time.

Her actions–and the progression of the story line in general–don’t make sense. Withholding information in the beginning of the novel did not work in its favor. The confusion stemming from this weak plot device was mitigated only by the lush descriptions of Rosemary’s surroundings. Her communication disorder should have been defined as speech apraxia in the beginning because it would have given the reader a better understanding of how she speaks.

On the other hand, the only thing that kept me reading was the fascination about that character trait. Though Rosemary’s development of confidence and self-esteem is heavy-handed, there are moments when the frustration of her not being able to say what she means and the inability to stick up for herself become extremely poignant. Bischoff makes Rosemary’s physical disability an extension of the desperation to be heard and understood that all young people feel.

I truly wish that the plot could have kept up with these moments of beauty, but it doesn’t. The inclusion of Marguerite’s story is tentative at best, and never seems fully developed. Building a connection between Rosemary and Marguerite based on a mutual inability to communicate effectively was forced and, quite frankly, trite.

After the novel’s climax when Rosemary discovers that Ansel is still alive, the plot becomes a tangled mess. Everything about the dinner scene is disjointed and difficult to parse through as a reader. It happened so quickly.

I think, perhaps, if the author had taken a different approach to the plot and really slowed things down, each part of the novel would have come together cleanly and effectively.

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