British author St. Aubyn makes his American debut with a trio of novellas that fit together well in the story of a man’s abusive father and the effects of a decadent upper class.
As a boy, Patrick Melrose (in “Never Mind”) quickly learns of his sadistic father David, who makes his wife eat like a dog just to verify his power, and holds his son up by the ears to teach him to make important decisions for himself. In fact, David is the talk of elite England: people whisper about his ritual humiliations, and there’s a rumor that Patrick is the product of an intra-marital rape. And rape is what will happen to Patrick himself when he’s old enough: “He did not know who this man was, it could not be his father who was crushing him like this.” “Bad News” catches up with Patrick when he’s older and hits a funk, spending at least $5K/week on heroine or cocaine: “How could he ever hope to give up drugs? They filled him with such intense emotion.” Also, father David has just died. We follow Patrick as he visits the funeral home abroad to gloat over the body, then allows himself to indulge in the best smack in the world, fending off the voices that are the evidence of his trauma: “Every thought or hint of a thought took on a personality stronger than his own.” A bad parody of a date ends miserably as well, and Patrick heads back to England, having missed both satisfying spite and legitimate grief. Finally, in “Some Hope,” set eight years later, Patrick has dropped the drugs but is still haunted by the memory of David. He eschews the goofy sanctimony of friend Johnny’s Narcotics Anonymous meetings. But is Johnny a good enough friend so Patrick can finally drop the English stoicism and confess his victimhood?
St. Aubyn’s vaguely satanic British upper-class life is an unlikely blend of Henry James and Bret Easton Ellis.