But once we get rolling, it’s clear that both the novel and the character are much more self-aware than this little moment would suggest. The frustration, wonder, and almost horror at the maudlin sentimentalism of that scene come through in funny ways. It’s like the feeling you might get getting teared up on a commercial that plays forty times as you watch repeats of 30 Rock on Hulu. It’s not a real emotion, it’s an expression of someone pressing on the right nerve in a manipulative way. This book is not so stylistically cynical as all that, but it does raise some real questions about this bizarro life that Americans (of a certain persuasion — ie rich white liberals) tell of themselves. On the one hand, we’re also getting a post-housing bubble collapse story of a man trying to keep himself and his family afloat amid the housing crisis. Then, we get the details. He didn’t do anything more wrong than anyone else, but he did buy his house for like $2 million, so maybe I care a lot less about the situation. He’s also trying to deal with the “mystery” of the origins of his adopted daughter, but his meddling now to try to rectify (well, reckon with) his meddling when she was adopted (and by the way, his house was already underwater when he adopted her so) comes through as equally empty. The emotions in this book are nicely performative and simplified in ways that I can earnestly understand. There’s such an ersatz rationality about the life we’ve carved out of the ridiculous wealth in the world now, but there’s nothing less than the complete fabrication of morality within this space of late American capitalism.
There are some ways in which I found this book a lot more interesting than I thought it was going to be about 10 pages in. There’s a funny moment where our protagonist is holding his hands, on the verge of tears, and about questioning himself as he watches Barack Obama being sworn in 2008. This among the expression of wonder at being the white adopted father of a small Black girl from Ethiopia. Uh oh, I thought to myself.