NICE by Charles Holdefer


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Adventures of a sweetly ineffectual latter-day Candide.

His name is Jerry Renfrow, but his narrator, who ought to know, never calls him anything but Mr. Nice Guy, and no wonder. Not only is he unfailingly nice to his wife Barbara, whose adulteries he tolerates with placidly supportive good cheer, and everybody else his path crosses under the Florida sun, but he's made a profession of virtue. Home-Made Services, the business he runs, makes its customers look good by reminding them to mail greeting cards, drafting letters for them to send their loved ones, or orchestrating more elaborate schemes for the truly caring. Mr. Nice Guy's latest venture, on behalf of the Sheik of Surimi, is his most ambitious: arranging a birthday party for the Sheik's daughter Zohra, complete with 20 pure-bred apricot Labrador puppies Home-Made Services has supplied for the occasion. It's this scheme that brings Mr. Nice Guy the sad fate that seems eternally to await the fictional nice. A call to jury duty keeps Mr. Nice Guy, who would never duck such a summons, distracted from the details of the party; his perennially disgruntled employee Garson Carter fumbles the puppies in a most spectacular way; and when the dust clears, Mr. Nice Guy is headed for five years and eight months (with possibly a few months off) in the state penitentiary, where he can expect to meet a lot of new friends who'll provide even sterner challenges to his sobriquet. By this time, of course, the joke has worn pretty thin, and it doesn't help when the hapless hero's adventures soar far outside the orbit of the plot, like a satellite heading off for parts unknown.

When does a nice guy no longer deserve to be called nice? Holdefer (Apology for Big Rod, 1997) is so gentle in his satire that he treats such questions with both gravity and weightlessness.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2001
ISBN: 1-57962-038-8
Page count: 254pp
Publisher: Permanent Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2001


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