I can’t tell if this is intention or not, and he wrote a few novels and books in between, but the ways that this book feels like a retread (and significantly less good one) of Straight Man, his novel from ten years earlier (and just so happens to be a book I read only a week ago) lessens this book. In some ways, there’s something about this book that’s really appealing. The cover, the lettering in the title, the title itself, all give this book the appearance of being a kind of beachy read. And in some ways, you could certainly read this at the beach. The prose is straight-forward enough, and while I think it helps to have some familiarity with English scholarship (as a field and method) in the last fifty years, it’s not essential. And while this appears that way, it’s a reversal of this. The story takes place mainly on trip to Cape Cod for a marriage, specifically our main character’s daughter’s wedding. We slowly realize that at 58, this screenwriting teacher and former/kind of current screen writer is going through some marital issues, struggling with work, and reeling from the death of his older parents (officious, if diverting) college professors. This all, after a lifetime of reeling from their being alive and his parents.
As the fog lifts a little we get a lot more of the story. The years leading up to this current yearlong separation from his wife, the life of his daughter and the people in her life, the ways in which his parents’ marriage and divorce jerked him in different ways, and his inability (of failure) to cope with all of this.
So, so much of this is in Straight Man too — the possibility of marriage problems, academic parents, a writing teacher trying to make sense of the un-writerliness of life (ie the lack of cohesive grand narratives). And it’s less good than Straight Man. There’s still good writing here, but I don’t think this is a very strong novel.