where is jonathan dee when they hand out all the literary awards??
because, jesus christ, being a finalist for the pulitzer, while nice, is much less than this man deserves.
and, yes, he has given us another novel about the problems of wealthy white americans. so all of you people who are bored with the affluenza and can’t get into a story unless it is about the struggles of the underclass, take a hike. but you’re missing out.
because jonathan dee is the real deal. his prose is so natural, so clean, so incisive, that even though i was not in love with any of these characters, nor with the ending, i still count this as a complete triumph of a novel.
because it is.
it is about the breakdown of a marriage somewhere in-between the mopey melodrama of revolutionary road and the flat-out brutality of gone girl. which is to say, it feels real. the griping and snapping and pent-up frustration and the long days of not-seeing each other, and the not-vocalizing discontent until something happens, and the cracks can no longer be ignored.
Every day is a day wasted, and you know you only get so many of them and no more, and if anybody uses the phrase ‘midlife crisis’ right now I swear to God I am coming back here with a gun and shooting this place up like Columbine. It is an existential crisis. Every day is unique and zero-sum and when it is over you will never get it back, and in spite of that, in spite of that, when every day begins I know for a fact that I have lived it before. I have lived the day to come already. And yet I’m scared of dying. What kind of fucking sense does that make? I don’t think I am too good for it all, by the way. In fact, I am probably not good enough for it, if you want to think of it like that. I am bored to near panic by my home and my work and my wife and my daughter. Think that makes me feel superior? But once you see how rote and lifeless it all is, you can’t just unsee it, that’s the thing.
that speech, delivered in a marriage counselor’s office, is the beginning of the catastrophic slide into dissolution, right before The Thing That Happens, happens.
and our characters go their separate ways, one to suffer the toxicity of pity of her peers and go on to discover her hidden talents in a new career, and one to be punished for his transgression again and again until all that is left is his ownself. (which i know sounds trite, but considering he has already announced his existential crisis, the stripping away of everything until only the self remains is kind of a given)
there is a supporting cast of characters, most importantly ben and helen’s adopted twelve-year-old daughter sara, who gets some really great scenes that made me squirm with remembered mother-daughter tension and aggravation (although not at twelve – i was still sweet and docile at twelve):
Sara had always hated eating dinner with her parents, and took no pains to disguise it. Like all of her contemporaries, she was restless when not doing at least two things at once, and the thought of eating – just eating, without the TV or her iPod on, without a phone in hand, without a book to read – struck her as not just wasteful but sentimental.
and a celebrity-actor, with a connection to helen:
He did not have a drinking problem per se, he felt; he just had so many other problems, so many other sensitivities, and they all eventually funneled toward alcohol as the only way, however temporary, of clearing the cache, of resetting himself.
and i had to quote those passages because they are perfect, even though i think i have myself transgressed, by quoting from an ARC, but i got the go-ahead to write the review, and i am hoping that the same brutes who enforce matress-tag removal do not come knocking down my door for my insouciance.
i am hoping that my glowing praise of jonathan dee will be enough to shield me.
because i have a great feeling about this book. its dissection of marriage is perfectly handled, and its exploration of private lives/public scandals is just as well-done. i have great enthusiasm for this book, despite my growly feelings towards the ending.
jonathan dee deserves to be read. you gotta wait until february for this one, but feel free to check out another of his books in the meantime, because he is under-read, and it’s time that this situation ends.