WATCH YOUR MOUTH by Daniel Handler


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Handler follows up his waggish debut (The Basic Eight, 1999) with an even more pungent fricassee: a summer's romance turned incestuous and murderous, cast in the form of an opera followed, naturally, by a 12-step recovery program.

Not that Joseph Last Name Changed to Protect the Innocent, as he refers to himself, has anything that outré in mind. What he expects when he signs on as assistant arts and crafts counselor to his girlfriend Cynthia Glass is a placid summer finishing up his junior-year incompletes in the time off from commuting between suburban Pittsburgh's Camp Shalom by day and Cynthia's enthusiastic bed by night. Oh, he's willing to vary the routine via the woods around Camp Shalom, the back of Cyn's car, and the occasional vertical bonk. What he's not willing to countenance is an incestuous streak that guarantees you'll never confuse this Glass family with J.D. Salinger's. Dad and Mom ("call me Mimi") lust respectively after their daughter and son, and young Ben pines for his big sis. The Glasses don't just pine either, as Joseph acknowledges every night when Cyn leaves his damp bed for her father's. Fortunately for Cyn's grandmother, the old lady dies before confessing any desire she might have to repossess her own flesh. The rest of the Glasses follow more violently, falling victim one by one to somebody the cops in Pittsburgh, California (don't ask), think is Joseph and Joseph thinks is the golem Mimi was building in her basement. No jest is too broad (Mimi's physician is named Dr. Zhivago), no simile too indecorous for Joseph's desperately coy unfolding of his summer of discontent and its sequel, as self-satisfied allusions from Kafka to Nabokov to Bill W. jostle for recognition.

Beneath all the busy trimmings, though, it's just another reworking of your basic self-reflexive parody incest opera mystery. About average for the genre.

Pub Date: July 21st, 2000
ISBN: 0-312-20940-1
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2000


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