Another middle-age-angst–meets–sex-romp comedy from Jacobson (Man Booker Prize winner The Finkler Question, 2010, etc.), that great chronicler of modern rakery.
Originally published in Britain in 2002, before news of its author crossed the waters to these shores, Jacobson’s shaggy dog story is a little more descriptive and a little less conversational than his more recent work. Marvin Kreitman, South London’s luggage purveyor par excellence, is a picaresque lothario who just can’t help being who he is: He loves women unconditionally and unreasonably, so much so that besides the four women in his life—mother, wife (“When she wasn’t Oedipus she was Jocasta”), two daughters—he is desperately attempting to juggle relationships with five others. Added to this busy schedule, he keeps a standing lunch date each week with a school friend named Charlie who’s always been a bit of a schlimazel (“He drooped disconsolately, like a puppy who had grown too big for its owner and been thrown onto the streets”), even though he has a stable, apparently happy marriage of long standing and enjoys some success as the author of children’s books. Yet Charlie, like Kreitman (Jacobson uses the first name for the former, the last name for the latter, as if to suggest the differences in emotional age and worldliness), is vaguely dissatisfied, and he proposes an arrangement that surprises even the ever-scheming Kreitman. Before things can go too far, fate intervenes in the form of a schlemiel (“Not merely Man with No Qualities but Man with No Prospects of Qualities”) who complicates things dangerously, revealing Kreitman’s fixations as being the silly but eminently harmful things that they are. Things cannot help but end—well, if not badly, then in a little more disarray than when the tale began.
Jacobson is often likened to Philip Roth, but there’s plenty of Isaac Bashevis Singer in his somewhat weary understanding of the human condition. Fans won’t be disappointed.