Nicole-Marie Handy has been fascinated by the French language and anything having to do with France her entire life. As a child, she was enchanted by the French dictionary with the blue cover she found in the trunk at the foot of her parents’ bed — until one day it disappeared, along with the snippets of French conversation she enjoyed with her handyman father, who told her, “When you’re a big girl, you can go to Paris and speak all the French you want.” Now fifty-sex, Nicole has spent her life in Oakland, California, working in a support staff position at a law firm, despite the fact that she is as capable and bright as any of the firm’s attorneys. One brief marriage ended several years ago, and she rekindled an affair begun more than thirty years ago with Clint, a married lawyer.
As Tamara, her best friend is dying, she presented Nicole with a notebook — a combination journal, address book, and log of events and information in which to capture the essence of Paris. Tamara also extracted Nicole’s promise to break free at last from the confines of her life and finally make the trip to France. Despite Clint’s protests and promises to at last divorce his wife, marry Nicole, and take her to Paris on a honeymoon, Nicole embarks on the twenty-nine day adventure for which she has waited a lifetime.
In a quaint little Paris shop, Nicole makes a shocking discovery — an old photograph of her father inscribed not to her mother, but to a beautiful woman Nicole has never heard of. Suddenly, Nicole’s vacation is transformed into a quest to learn who the woman was, her relationship to Nicole’s father, and how the photograph ended up for sale. When Nicole learns the woman’s identity, she is also determined to find out what happened to her.
Nicole’s present-day search for answers is juxtaposed with the story of RubyMae Garrett, a young Mississippi girl whose life is changed when she sneaks out of the house and meets saxophonist Arnett Dupree. In the 1950s, Paris was filled with jazz and Americans like Ruby and Arnett, intent on fulfilling their dreams in a city where the color of one’s skin made no difference.
Passing Love is an examination of Lost love, secrets, and betrayals. Will the knowledge Nicole obtains in Paris change her life?
Author Jacqueline E. Luckett expertly sets the stage and draws readers into Nicole’s story with the book’s opening sentences:
She’d waited all her life to go to Paris.
As for the reasons why the dream of speaking French in France, of standing beneath the Eiffel Tower at the stroke of midnight, of lingering in sidewalk cafes took so long to come about — she chose to evade, not explain them. Her greatest fear, the one she carried like a locket close to her heart, was that in taking too close a look at the days that composed her fifty-six years, the dam that confined her existence might break and release a river of regret for all the places she’d never visited, the books she’d never read, the things she’d never done.
And Luckett delivers on the literary promise contained in those words.
Nicole-Marie Handy has spent her life doing what needs to be done, rarely taking risks. She has been a dutiful daughter, reliable employee, steady friend. And she is about to fulfill her childhood dream only because, being honorable and loyal, she must keep the promise she made to her forty-three-year-old friend, Tamara, as she lay dying. She is at last going to Paris, rocking the status quo and prompting her married lover, Clint, to attempt to dissuade her with promises of a Paris honeymoon. Undeterred, Nicole finally makes her way to La Ville-Lumière (City of Light). As she explores its charming shops, she happens into a little store filled with used treasures and it is there that she discovers the photograph of her own father.
Be wild.Dance in the streets.Take French lessons.Walk the wrong way home.Don’t play it safe~~ Tamara to Nicole in Passing Love
Nicole calls home to question her parents about the photo. But her father is in the throes of dementia, sometimes able to remember and sometimes not. It is Nicole’s mother, Malvina, who ships a box of letters that hold the answers to questions Nicole never consciously knew she needed to ask. Nicole has always intuited the differences between her and her mother, even though her parents’ love for her has never been in question.
In successive chapters, Luckett reveals the story of RubyMae Garrett, a beautiful young girl growing up in Mississippi in the 1940’s, branded a lazy dreamer by her family. When Ruby sneaks out of the house with older boarder Lurlene, she enters a shack at the end of a road in the woods where her destiny is sealed. Both Arnett Dupree and the sounds emanating from his saxophone take her breath away. He quickly becomes her addiction and she eventually flees with him to Paris where the sounds of jazz fill the air each evening and the color of one’s skin is not an impediment to achievement.
Readers will undoubtedly guess Ruby’s connection to Nicole immediately, but that does not detract from the enjoyment of Nicole’s journey because in Luckett’s tale, the revelations are less important than the lessons learned along the way. All of Nicole’s basic assumptions about her family and her life are thrown into question, requiring her to reevaluate her relationship with her parents, her life choices, and, most importantly, her future.
Equally fascinating is Luckett’s telling of Ruby’s story set against the backdrop of a seemingly carefree, post-World War II era in which Paris already offered black Americans something they did not enjoy at home where the fight for civil rights was just taking shape: freedom. In Paris, there was no segregation, no delineation between “white” and “colored,” and no limitations on Ruby and Arnett’s dreams. Luckett explores the lengths to which Ruby will go in pursuit of her dreams and demonstrates the price of determination. Ruby’s choices have dramatic consequences for all concerned, of course.
Although the major themes of Passing Love are familiar, the manner in which Luckett tackles them is unique with regard to time, place, and social backdrop. On the surface, her two female protagonists appear to be complete opposites. While Nicole has led a safe, predictable life, Ruby gambled everything at the outset. But Luckett ponders whether they are as different as they seem, also probing their relationships with Malvina. To her credit, Luckett refuses to provide easy answers or predictable resolutions to this intriguing story about the power of secrets and the enigmatic parent-child bond. Passing Love features a lushly descriptive narrative, infused with musical and literary references, as well as believable and compelling characters, and is thoroughly entertaining and insightful.