Husband cheats and mother-in-law pounces in this short, profane, cartoonish novel.
George Henry is partner in a Boston law firm, middle-aged and prosperous, long married to Pearl, his high-school sweetheart. Their sex life has dried up, and George has been having an affair with a hottie in his office building. Then Muriel finds out. She is the mother-in-law from hell, a sharp-tongued sitcom character who has never thought George good enough for her baby girl. Muriel was an Oscar-nominated movie star way back when, with a husband very distantly related to Elvis; now she’s a 91-year-old virago with an ultimatum for George: divorce or counseling. (Pearl doesn’t want a divorce but is afraid of her mother.) The counseling option mandates a time out, which is why, as the story begins, the family are flying to a rented chateau in the South of France. As well as Muriel, there are two teenagers, Billy and Iska. Billy is a super-talented rock musician with a cocaine addiction, so George won’t sign off on his contract unless his son stays clean for four weeks. (Ultimatum No. 2). All this sounds, in George’s narration, like a lame stand-up routine; he uses the F word often enough to rob it of all effectiveness. At first Billy steals the show, threatening to jump off the chateau roof unless George relents on the contract, but his dad locks him up and gets the drug out of his system. It’s George’s turn to act up when he meets the gorgeous Carmen. She owns the local patisserie and, guess what, is the world’s biggest Elvis fan. The sex goddess offers herself to George and the two have daily workouts until Muriel catches them in flagrante. Her Polaroids appear to make divorce inevitable until George shows the old biddy his dossier exposing all her career scandals. Game over.
This Irish author’s dire second novel is a major disappointment after his powerful debut (The Last Estate, 2010).