BOTTLE GROVE by Daniel Handler


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Consumed by their baser natures, two San Francisco couples struggle to find happiness within the confines of marriage and immense wealth.

Martin Icke, a down-on-his-luck barman, mixes bespoke cocktails at the wedding of Rachel, an anxious socialite about to marry Ben Nickels, a kindly tech underling. Midswizzle, Martin falls for Padgett, a poor-little-rich-girl with an ill-concealed substance abuse problem moonlighting as a waitress. The wedding is disrupted by the trickster wiles of Reynard, a hedonistic spirit that haunts the would-be monogamists of the book, reminding them of their animalistic desires. Affairs, animal experiments, potential kidnappings, and thefts ensue. In particular, Padgett and Martin concoct a scheme to put Padgett in the way of the Vic, a tech scion à la Zuckerberg and Jobs who has invented software that tracks your every move and stores it in "the Trail." If only Padgett can capture the Vic's interest, perhaps she can redistribute the immense wealth of Silicon Valley back into the pockets of a man like Martin. Handler (All the Dirty Parts, 2017, etc.) draws on fables like "Reynard the Fox" to comment on the inhumanity of his characters and tips his hat to noir films like Rebecca to pluck at the threads of the marriage plot. Instead of giving readers new ways to think about marriage or cruelty, however, these literary allusions only muddy the waters in a novel overly interested in solipsistic caricature and jagged, cynical pronouncements. Marriage is both a "big con" and "a civilizing influence." Gentrification is the "prowling," beastly instinct of the tech bro. Characters quip endlessly, repeating the same tiresome steps in Handler's wordplay shuffles. "You're icky, Icke," Padgett tells Martin at some point. Reynard's appearance is "not ghastly, just ghostly." A drunkard watches a bar "shimmer as if in a breezy breeze." While the brutal inhumanities of startup culture are ripe for satire and criticism, this novel fails to deliver even a glancing blow.

A clunky, garbled novel about marriage, greed, and deception in Silicon Valley at the height of the tech boom.

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-63286-427-7
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2019


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