Man Booker Prize winner Jacobson (The Finkler Question, 2010, etc.) delivers a cross-the-pond rejoinder to Philip Roth in this entertaining, sexually laden picaresque.
Frank Ritz, 50, gets paid for sitting around all day and watching television—literally. A prizewinning critic, he is surrounded by top-drawer media-consumer technology, his study a vision of “winking red and green lights…digitized all-knowingness, like the cabin of a jumbo jet.” The trouble is, his wife is firmly committed to the homespun life—anything to oppose Frank, it seems. Melissa writes what he calls “feministical-erotic novels” longhand; when she’s not doing so, she snipes at him for his choice of profession, even though, Frank fumes, “without his watching that crap all day she couldn’t afford the luxury of writing a hundred words a month.” Frank finds himself thrust outside the door, shed of his cocoon. And what’s a poor boy to do without his TV? Why, start chasing women of every description. “What a mystery girls were,” Frank ponders. “You just never knew what you were going to find. No wonder there were some men who never stopped.” Frank is relentless in his non-stopping, embarking on a sexual odyssey to do Molly Bloom proud, even as Jacobson fills in the background with sad and sordid tales of early misadventures with Scandinavian exchange students and flower children. The arrangements get a little complex at times, including one particularly odd and acrobatic threesome toward the end of the tale, eventually leading Frank more or less full circle. Will he find happiness? We can never quite be sure, but Frank is exuberant in his midlife freedom. Jacobson’s writing perfectly matches that mood, exemplified by a long passage, the literary equivalent of a filmic single-tracking shot, describing a walk along Oxford Street, “eyeballing policemen, postmen, traffic wardens, bus drivers, cab drivers, van drivers, street-sweepers,” and on and on, embracing the whole of humanity.
A lovely, lively novel for all its sometimes bitter view of the war between the sexes; impeccably written, and without a false note.