The life of the mind is of primary importance to Dominique, the protagonist of The Green Hour, as she idealistically pursues the transcendence of ideas with her feet on the ground and her head in the clouds. An art historian, Dominique’s world consists of ideas, conceits and intellectual acuity. As a graduate student, Dominique enjoys a mentor, but in her youthful hubris, she fails to recognize the true nature of the professor’s affection, bruising his sensibilities with tales of her romantic adventures. This is a woman who carefully attends her own inner life but grows careless of others, even as she matures.
In her graduate student days, Dominique’s heart is engaged in a love affair that will last throughout her life, intermittent but unwavering in its passion. Rex, her lover, is a self-styled political revolutionary, unable to remain in one place for long. Their devotion is mutual, but Dominique has a bourgeois heart. Rex expects Dominique to understand that they are soulmates for life, ever together even when he is somewhere in Mexico or Europe in search of new causes. Their most idyllic days are spent in Paris, where they share a flat; such days live in Dominique’s memory long after her lover’s side of the bed is empty.
When Dominique meets Eric, she is worldly enough to realize that this wealthy businessman can offer the security and emotional stability that Rex will never achieve. She thinks perhaps she would like to experience serenity, especially after a bout with cancer, now in remission, that has stunned her into an awareness of her own mortality. Yet whenever Rex beckons, she runs to his side. Curiously, Eric accepts her inability to commit to a relationship with him, loving her enough to wait. Thus Dominique is pulled between the two men but inclined to favor the burning passion of her youth, now more an addiction than romance.
Dominique is with Eric when she sees Rex again in Paris (where else?). Rex has an infant son, Kenji, whose mother has returned to Japan. This third “man” in Dominique’s life captures her heart irrevocably and she, Rex and Kenji live together blissfully. They thrive as a family until one tragic day when Kenji is lost to them, kidnapped by his mother’s family. Predictably, Rex is driven to wander the earth in despair and Dominique left to deal with her own grief.
Frederic Tuten’s novel is essentially an esoteric fairy tale, believable only if kept within the strict constructs of the plot. There are flaws, most noticeably, Dominique’s freedom from money woes. The professor facilitates her tenure at his university and Eric consistently enables her behavior by providing the financial resources Dominique lacks. For twenty year, she has been accumulating pages of the literary work that will establish her credentials in the art world, yet this work seems but an excuse to fill the hours between trysts with Rex. Much time is spent rhapsodizing about “the green hour” (le heuer verte): early evening in 1980’s Paris cafes, when customers drown their troubles in still-legal absinthe.
Tuten’s elegant prose perfectly defines the sophisticated world Dominique inhabits. In her mind, she resides in “the green hour,” where everything else fades into background noise. Ultimately, Dominique only desires the return of Kenji, the one thing in her life, other than herself, that she is able to love unconditionally.