A midlife crisis in upstate New York.
For plump, balding, 30-something Nick Framingham, with his “teetering marriage and dead-end job,” things really start to unravel after his childhood friend Rob Castor, a successful but blocked writer, murders his girlfriend Kate, then commits suicide. Nick, the narrator of Gottlieb’s second novel (The Boy Who Went Away, 1996) is a man of seemingly limited appeal—a self-proclaimed dork at school; distant with his wife Lucy and two sons; and out of touch with his emotionally cool parents, who seemed to love his brother (killed in a car crash) more. Now, despite Lucy’s increasingly pointed warnings that their marriage is at risk, he seems happy to commit adultery with his old flame, Rob’s sexpot sister, when she returns to Monarch, the small town where they all grew up. While drifting further from Lucy (whom he claims to love) and his children (whom he accuses Lucy of wooing away from him), Nick talks to his own aging parents, then Rob’s poisonous mother, whose suggestion that he is illegitimate might explain his parents’ lesser love for him. Two secrets are finally exposed, one which causes Nick to redefine himself, the other intended to explain his emotional torpor—although neither halts his downward slide.
Sensational revelations arrive too late to enliven a smoothly written but sluggish and morose tale.