An Iowa college town is ground zero for a host of relationship dramas in this provocative, sultry tale.
Don Lowry is a real estate agent who’s having trouble making sales in Great Recession–era Grinnell. His wife, Claire, is a writer who’s spent more than a decade blocked on her second book. The last thing their marriage needs is an interloper, but across the summer chronicled in this novel, they wind up with two. Amelia Benitez-Coors, aka ABC, a young college grad mourning the death of her girlfriend and contemplating suicide, meets Don and cultivates a friendship thick with weed and flirtation. Charlie Gulliver, an actor, has returned to town to manage the affairs of his ailing father, an English professor with a lecherous past; he’s soon making eyes at both Claire and ABC. Bakopoulos (English/Grinnell College; My American Unhappiness, 2011, etc.) doesn’t labor too hard to establish the plausibility of this love trapezoid; he hastens through its early meet-cutes and meet-stoneds to address his main theme of how relationships survive (or don’t) in the face of the outside pressures that are placed upon them. To its credit, the novel stays light on its feet; its breezy chapters are laced with sex and humor, the latter most often in the form of Ruth Manetti, the pot-smoking owner of the manse that becomes the hub for the various machinations. Indeed, between the louche vibe and matriarchal presence, the novel often feels like Armistead Maupin’s San Francisco teleported to the Midwest. But Bakopoulos is forced to maintain a tricky balance between depicting his characters’ newfound libertinism and taking its potential consequences (divorce, foreclosure) seriously; Don and Claire’s children are present but little more than stock complications. The story closes with a few plot threads unraveled and some well-formed characters a touch too clouded in pot smoke.
A well-intentioned and provocative, if messy, attempt to mess with the stock themes of domesticity.