Where have you gone, Margaret Thatcher? A randy Britain turns its eyes to you.
Charlie is getting old—he’s about to celebrate his 70th birthday—but he’s not dead yet, not with Viagra around. (And damn the doctors who say he can’t take it because of his failing ticker.) His wife, Dorothy, stoically accepts the sexual drive the little blue pill generates in her husband, but then she’s stoic in general—so much so that she can even tolerate Charlie’s long-time mistress, Janet. Vignettes about each of Charlie’s four daughters—two with Dorothy, two with Janet—drive the latest novel by Sutton (Kid’s Stuff, 2005), who seems to believe that the conscience of a country would be obvious if only we better understood its underwear-shopping habits. Each woman is framed around her busted relationships, choice in panties and sexual need: Catherine’s a mother of three who sleeps around and resents her ex-husband’s rejection of her for another man; Zara can’t decide if she should dump her boyfriend (he can barely speak English, but he’s great in the sack); Sally satisfies herself with a garden hose; and Alicia is turned off by her boyfriend Mikey’s trips to a strip club, but ashamed of her own dalliance with a fellow teacher. Willfully pulpy, porny and junky, this novel has a few moments in which the characters’ wanton lusts make for some smart, revealing comedy—Janet’s hunt for a vibrator becomes a taut essay on divorce, motherhood and the world of retail. But mostly Sutton is a writer of little nuance whose attitude toward the people he invents borders on contempt—he captures these men and women at their most embarrassed and intimate, not just to expose them for the insecure, needy people they are, but to mock them for it. Does he mean to say that these people are sad victims of a culture that insists they fit a certain model of sexiness, or is he just taking whacks at them? The author seems unaware that there’s a distinction.
Defiantly bawdy, but ultimately hollow.