A glimpse into the future—which looks a lot like the present—from the author of Tampa (2013) and Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls (2011).
“Hazel’s 76-year-old father had bought a doll. A life-size woman doll. The kind designed to provide a sexual experience that came as close as possible to having sex with a living (or maybe, Hazel thought, a more apt analogy was a very-very-recently deceased) female.” These are the first lines of Nutting’s second novel (her first book was a collection of short fiction). They are attention-getting, certainly, and the mix of barefaced candor and mordant humor will be familiar to the author’s fans, as will the deeply flawed protagonist. Hazel was well on her way to becoming a standard-issue screw-up when she met tech billionaire Byron Gogol. When the story begins, she's trying to escape her marriage to Byron—and hoping to avoid being assassinated by her obsessive spouse. Much of the novel is set in 2019, after Hazel has left her husband, but there are flashbacks to her courtship—if we can call it that—and life in Byron’s compound. There’s also a parallel story about Jasper, a con artist who develops a sexual and romantic attachment to dolphins after a male bottlenose tries to rape him. Nutting’s prose style is distinctive, and the narrative is shot through with her inventive language, and she’s adept at creating darkly absurd situations. But character-building is not among her strengths. Hazel never quite emerges as a fully formed person, which makes it hard to remain interested in her. The same goes for Jasper. And this novel’s pacing is uneven and, ultimately, unsatisfying. While Nutting borrows plot elements from thrillers, narrative momentum is constantly undercut by back story and scenes that are odd and amusing but not entirely necessary.
An uneven effort from a terrific writer.