A family bursts at the seams as long-buried secrets are revealed.
Upon reading the opening scene of this debut novel, in which a one-time child TV star named Benji Fisher, reduced in boozy middle age to playing King Hamlet’s ghost in an upstate production, flees his dressing room, lurches into the woods, decides against suicide, then falls 30 feet into a dry streambed, the reader settles in for what looks to be a comedy. But just as quickly, there are intimations of another sort of book—one which interleaves brief, mysterious cris de coeur from Benji’s father, Henry Fisher, a prominent novelist now descending into Alzheimer's disease. Henry’s interior monologues refer to a long-lost character named Jane whose role in the Fishers’ past will remain unclear for quite a while. Meanwhile, the rest of the family assembles to figure out who will take care of Benji. Aside from Benji’s 658 Facebook friends (“He was after all, the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question ('80s edition)”), the candidates are mother Evelyn, long-suffering older sister Claudia, and a lovely 25-year-old actress named Cat McCarthy.Cat played Ophelia in the ill-fated production of Hamlet, and while it’s unsurprising that Benji was lusting after her, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher that she’s fallen for him. “She’d rented all four seasons of Prodigy while he was in the hospital, all five of his films, even A Hamster for Hannah, and discussed them without mockery, seriously, as a body of (her word) work that might one day have him thanking Uta Hagen from the dais.” Cat shows up at the hospital with a gift, a copy of Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, which becomes a major plot element when yet another mystery character arrives on the scene. Max Davis is an actual prodigy, a 22-year-old cellist with a secret connection to the family, now in the process of writing an opera based on To the Lighthouse. But tragedy is on the way for all of them.
Like its protagonist, this novel aspires to more than it achieves.