François: A Memoir

Kyle Thomas Smith

Publisher: StreetLegal Press Pages: 168 Price: (paperback) $10.99 ISBN: 9781662947551 Reviewed: April, 2024 Author Website: Visit »

In this memoir, author Kyle Thomas Smith uses his brief experience with François, a charming, French documentary filmmaker, as a jumping-off point to explore many topics, including his childhood and emotionally abusive family, education and literary aspirations, work and rambling career path, and discovery of self-help books.

François is an insightful narrative of associations and reflections. It’s built on memories within memories, beginning with Smith overhearing a conversation between a woman who has just been let go from her job, and her friend who views it as an opportunity. This prompts Smith to remember his first job after college as an assistant in the law office of a for-profit hospital. His boss, Anne, veers between friendliness and criticism.

Escaping from the tedium, he meets François through his former French teacher, with whom he has a complicated friendship. Enamored with this successful, world-travelling artist, Smith obsessively writes François philosophical letters in French, until the Frenchman invites him to Paris. The reality sadly doesn’t hold up to Smith’s fantasy, but he finds that the process helps unlock his creativity.

The tone is conversational, with memories unfolding naturally as he explains his experiences. At the same time, the book is full of artistic references; for instance, he discusses the sad legacy of a famous self-help author and writes of how watching a Martin McDonagh play—in which it’s revealed that a character had savagely abused his gay brother’s dog—recalls his family’s casual cruelty to his pet. “I…hung my head and wept an ungovernable flow of tears,” he writes.

The author reveals his knowledge of languages with footnotes for many of his conversations and letters to François, translating French phrases into English and occasionally giving the French equivalent for English phrases.

Some readers may find the author’s discursive style off-putting, as François doesn’t appear until late into the book. Readers intrigued by how an intelligent writer was shaped by his encounters with life and art, though, will enjoy this memoir.

Also available as an ebook.

Author's Current Residence
New York, New York
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