The author is perhaps best known as the poet laureate of Beat counterculture--co-founder of City Lights Bookstore and Press in San Francisco, inspiration to Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac--but it is his sensitivity as a painter that is most apparent in this original, intense novel. Like a good visual artist, Ferlinghetti plays with light in these pages, contrasting the bright, "masculine" daytime world--society, business and politics--with the feminine night, a haven of sensuousness and introspection. A love affair between Annie and Julian, set against Paris' "old, pearly gray light," represents the night. The day appears only in retrospect, as Julian and Annie reflect on their struggles to come to terms with the turmoil of their time: 1968.
Annie, an expatriate, Expressionist painter from New York City, tries in her work to "breathe life again" into the landscapes of the "destroyed streets of the Lower East Side" and to make sense of the "harsh, 'big sky' light of America . . . that left no place to find one's private self"; Julian, in turn, constantly talks of rebelling against his job as a banking executive: "The bourgeois mentality itself," he tells Annie, "is the real enemy."
Annie is the first to resolve her conflict, abandoning her efforts to make sense of the larger world through Expressionism and taking up an art she finds more human and meaningful: figurative painting. Julian lags behind her, warring against the daytime world by blowing up valuable security receipts he has stolen from his bank. Ferlinghetti gives us the sense that Julian will come around, though, when Julian's close friend and partner in the heist tells Annie that their activism is made up of "nothing more than obsessions, obsessions of the tribe! Just like primitive tribes sticking pins into their totems to kill their enemies! . . . So what then, if thought itself is the destroyer--if thought itself divides us up into hate groups and sets us killing each other, over and over, century after century?"