French Exit
by Patrick deWitt


West Maui Book Club Discussion Questions

Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Aloha and mahalo for visiting our site!
Any page numbers refer to iPad edition.


1. The term “French Exit” has a specific meaning. Do you know what it is? It means to make a hasty exit without explanation. How does the term apply in this novel?

2. After reading, why do you think Malcolm lifted things from peoples’ apartments and homes? And why do you think after the first mention and the second attempt, it was no longer an issue?

3. How would you explain Frances’s distant persona?

4. What would you say of Susan’s hopeless and helpless love of Malcolm? What were his endearing qualities? Why did she return to him? And do you think she treated him fairly?

5. What would you say of Malcolm’s experience at boarding school? How did it affect or help shape him? How was he like his mother? How was he different? While in Paris, he sensed something (ch 19) about her furtive looks that frightened him, served him as a warning, yet he never addressed it. Why do you think that is?

6. What can you glean from Malcolm's memory of his father at Central Park Zoo when the gorillas got agitated over his dad at the windows? One came over and got aggressive, smearing feces against the glass. He’d felt the “sting of tribal ostracism.” And it wasn’t the first time, consider Francis’s memory of him and her feeding hotdogs to the carp.

7. What did you think of Mme. Reynard? What was her attraction to the Prices? Madeleine, the clairvoyant? Julian, the private investigator?

8. What do you think so fascinated Malcolm as he watched the park goers from his window?

9. What of Mr. Franklin Price? What did you think of his crafty aloofness? Or of Francis believing Small Frank, the cat, had taken on Mr. Prices’ persona? Did Madeleine improvise the conversations? Were they in Francis’s head?

10. Was everyone delusional? Were they all hangers on? What was it that drew everyone to Francis? Was it her reported lack of concern over her dead husband’s body? Her going off to ski despite his death? Her eccentric nature? What is it about these types of people that attracts others?

11. Did you think this story would be about death? Were you shocked about how Francis handled the death of her husband or her own? Do you think they were connected? That Francis, perhaps felt a great guilt over how she’d left him? Or over how she’d left Malcolm to fend for himself at boarding school, especially since she couldn’t let go of him after? What of her preparations with spending all that remained of their money, giving a bundle to the men in the park even? Or befriending people? Honestly settling her differences with Susan? Sharing her secret with the cat and it’s part in it? How did she prepare Malcolm? Or did she? She considered taking him with her, after all.

12. How do you think Malcolm’s future will unfold? Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for FRENCH EXIT … then take off on your own:

1. Patrick deWitt's French Exit is subtitled "A Tragedy of Manners." What does the subtitle mean?

 2. Follow-up to Question 1: Despite the subtitle, there is much that is funny in this novel. What made you laugh (or chuckle)? In what way is this book also "a comedy of manners"—a genre that satirizes the hypocrisy of the privileged: people who value appearance over substance?

 3. Katy Waldman in The New Yorker considers the opening sequence of French Exit a sort of tour de force. What do we learn in the first several pages about Frances Price and her son Malcolm? Does your attitude toward them change over the course of the novel? Do they elicit sympathy from you …or disgust …or laughter …or eye-rolling or… anything in particular?

4. "Do you know what a cliche is?" Frances asks her friend Joan. "It's a story so fine and thrilling that it's grown old in its hopeful retelling." What does she mean? How would you define cliche? And why does Frances bring up cliches in the first place?

5. What do we come to learn about the Price's marriage and about Malcolm's childhood? What kind of man was Franklin Price, and what was his relationship to—and the effect he had on—those closest to him?

6. Do the characters ever achieve true intimacy in the novel? Do they ever break out of deWitt's witty dialogue and narration?

7. Talk about the novel's conclusion, especially the twist at the end? What do you think will become of Malcolm?

8. Oh, and Small Frank? Care to comment?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

NPR excerpt from Helen Mcalpin article, Aug. 29, 2018 “Understaed and Over-Frank, ‘French Exi’ is Just the Right Amount of Funny”

DeWitt ultimately works his spirited narrative around to some sober points about the lasting effects of insufficient love. But French Exit doesn't bear too much serious scrutiny. It works better on the comic level than the tragic.

10 Questions for Patrick deWitt: Poets & Writers by “staff” 8.28.18

1. Where, when, and how often do you write?
Twice daily, morning and night, in my office, in my home in Portland, Oregon.

2. How long did it take you to write French Exit?
A year for the rough draft.

3. What has been the most unexpected thing about the publication process?
The general loveliness of the people working in publishing. I had anticipated a much colder, dog-kill-dog landscape.

4. Where did you first get published?
In a magazine called the Minus Times.

5. What are you reading right now?
Under the Net by Iris Murdoch.

6. Who is the most underrated author, in your opinion?
Stephen Millhauser is beloved, but his books should be given free of charge to every interested citizen.

7. What is one thing you’d change about the literary community and/or the publishing business?
I’m for an industry-wide ban on the blurb.

8. What are the biggest impediments to your writing life?
The relentlessly horrific details of contemporary life. People.

9. What’s one thing you hope to accomplish that you haven’t yet?
I want to write and direct a play, then tour it through small towns in North America.

10. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’d had a lingering hunch for a couple of years, but by the age of seventeen I knew I wanted to write novels, specifically.

Questions compiled by: Elaine Gallant
West Maui Book Club
Mar. 2020