Wednesday, June 5, 2019

It's crisp! It's fruity! And what a finish! - the refreshing new novel from Antoine Laurain, Vintage 1954, is in bookstores

I am not going to bury the lede here. Antoine Laurain's newest novel, Vintage 1954, has arrived stateside and it's just gone on sale at Boswell.

Here's my rec: "When a resident of an old apartment building gets locked in the cellar that’s been in his family for generations, he celebrates his rescue by opening a bottle of 1954 Beaujolais Nouveau with his new friends, a ceramics restorer, a bartender, and a tourist from Milwaukee(!). They have no idea that this batch of wine was touched by aliens, except the UFO-obsessed bartender has a clue, because his grandfather disappeared in 1978 after a similar fermented encounter. One sip and the next morning they are back in the Paris of 1954, which is only made a little confusing because Paris was in the middle of celebrating Heritage Days. How the heck are they going to get back? And will they learn a little about themselves in the process? Laurain’s latest features a charming quartet of protagonists, a love story, some philosophical asides, and a number of Easter-egged extras, drawn from 1950s French culture. You just have to accept the offbeat time travel theorizing, but having just read Jack Finney’s Time and Again, that’s just par for the genre. In all, Vintage 1954 is positively grapey, which in my book, means it’s a complete delight and a must-read for fans of The President’s Hat and The Red Notebook."

Now a little backstory. Boswell first fell in love with Antoine Laurain with the publication of The President's Hat in 2013. I was able to read it early when it was nominated for the Indie's Introduce program - it had an enthusiastic recommendation from Betsy Burton at King's English, and I take her recommendations seriously. We wound up having six reads (apologies to our customer who hates when I use 'reads' in this manner) and were even able to host a very delightful event with Laurain.

Then The Red Notebook was released and we sold just as many. I think that even sold better in the market, perhaps because on top of everything else, it works as a romance. Both books were so easy to hand-sell and because the books were both in translation and from an independent press, they would be less likely to explode nationally such that the books were in huge displays in chain stores.

We were thrilled to have Laurain return to Milwaukee for his book French Rhapsody, which like his first two novels published stateside, centered on a lost artifact, not a hat or a notebook this time, but a cassette tape. Another great novel, a little darker, but still completely Laurainy. Once again we worked with our great partners, Alliance Fran├žaise de Milwaukee. (Love Paris? We're working with AF on our Cara Black on June 12, with celebratory blood orange tartlets from North Shore Boulangerie. Register here).

But it was the research project that Laurain set up while he was traveling that was the most interesting. Laurain asked for help visiting the Harley Davidson archive for another book he was working on. With the help of Liam Callanan, who was working on a Paris book of his own (you know how that story ended!), we visited the archive and Jim Fricke helped Laurain find the information he needed.

The result is that the book features a Milwaukee character, Bob, an engineer at Harley Davidson. What I particularly love about this is that when I visited Paris, some 30 (yeeks) years ago, no Parisian knew what a Milwaukee was. I told them I lived near Chicago, which they did mostly know. But when I told them it was the home of Harley Davidson, that they knew. I even passed a Harley Davidson store.

In between, Gallic has released two of Laurain's earlier novels, The Portrait and Smoking Kills. 

One last note on Bob. It was not referenced in the finished book, but in the galley letter, Laurain noted that Bob was vaguely based on two people, one of whom was our good friend and sales rep, John Mesjak. The other model was me. I am nothing if not honored! But I should probably note that when our fearless foursome goes back in time, there's only one person who doesn't get that Paris of 1954 is not the Paris of today. Can you guess who that is?

This is not the last you'll hear of Vintage 1954. I think it's impossible to be sad after reading this book. And who can't use a little happiness?

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