From Nicholson (Flesh Guitar, 1998, etc.), a comic cross-cultural romance mixed with a droll consideration of architectural aesthetics suggests that ruins—human and monumental—can be beautiful.
Kelly Howell, a British taxi driver, is “ruined” because she’s not pursuing her genetic potential: her father was the late Christopher Howell, architecture’s most celebrated failure, a cult hero though he completed only one building. Into Kelly’s life now comes Jack Dexter, a Californian who himself appears a bit of a ruin—limping, drinking, complaining. The couple’s initial relationship is professional: Dexter hires Kelly to guide him around England as he gathers impressions and, inadvertently, offends his guide’s British propriety, the plot beginning to turn on the romantic tension between this contrasting pair. She is a ruin, he is a fixer. Although the revelation of the true reason for Dexter’s visit provides an effective twist for which the groundwork has been carefully laid, getting there proves more intriguing than does arriving on a trip that will show readers an on-going discrepancy between the story’s emotionally cool tone and its deeper ambition. In the course of events, an old man is brutally beaten, and a menacing, unstable drifter burns to death, violent acts that are curiously undisturbing in the context of an otherwise droll, entertaining narrative. Kelly, the central consciousness, remains something of an enigma, as does Dexter, for that matter, who disappears from the story at a crucial point. To paraphrase the author’s words (applied to a different object), there’s a chilly, masculine emptiness about the prose despite its elegance. Funny, provocative essays by the dead architect father, interpolated into the text in an irregular pattern, fail to illuminate the characters fully, though they do enrich our sense of the environments around us.
A fun, fast read with a rich premise that ultimately fails to pay off.