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The careers of a homebuilder and a bureaucrat converge on the booming fringe of Ottawa.

McAdam’s debut flexes considerable muscle once it settles down from a jittery beginning in the minds of Jerry McGuinty, an understandably inarticulate, up-from-nothing builder and his cirrhotic, delusional, estranged wife Kathleen. Carefully constructing McGuinty’s progress up the ranks from gofer to drywall drudge to plaster artist to developer, McAdam tackles concurrently the rise of Simon Struthers, a thoroughly unpleasant bureaucrat, a bachelor with a bad habit of boffing the wives of his co-workers and, when appropriate, his co-workers. Struthers, son of an MP, independently wealthy, and totally amoral, drifts into semipotency in a department with controls over city development, a course that will place his one real project, a greenbelt, square in the path of Jerry McGuinty’s subdivisions. McGuinty’s ambitions and work ethic absorb him totally and leave him oblivious both to Irish-born Kathleen’s hard-to-miss alcoholism and to the wretched life of their only son. He also manages to miss the fact that Kathleen pretty much loathes him and would gladly chuck husband, son, and the succession of bigger homes to return to her loose life running a lunch wagon from one construction site to the next. What works here is the portrait of Jerry and the insight into the rough world and odd priorities of the people who shape the houses most of us live in and are occasionally mystified by. Less believable is the utter corruption of the urban mandarin who, when he is not meddling with progress, spends an astonishing amount of time peering into the windows of his ladyloves, one of whom is much, much too young. The disintegration of the McGuintys’ wretched family is made palatable by a clever denouement that knits up the ambitions of the two men.

The construction business is on solid ground, the bureau is a little shaky.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-15-101028-5
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2004


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