Hamilton (When Madeline Was Young, 2006, etc.) reinvents the ménage à trois via the Internet in her lively sixth novel.
When stoically married Laura tires of her puppy-like husband Charlie’s volcanic sexuality and swears off lovemaking, her energies are reawakened to look beyond the successful “farm nursery” they run together in rural Wisconsin. Laura’s dream of writing innovative, grownup romance novels is realized in surprising ways after she meets Milwaukee Public Radio talk show host (and neighbor) Jenna Faroli. Laura engineers Jenna’s friendship with chronically extroverted Charlie, then manipulates that friendship by first assisting, then appropriating her husband’s e-mail correspondence with his new girl friend/girlfriend. The inevitable occurs, skeletons emerge from both women’s marital and familial closets, and a plot cleverly linked to that of a favorite novel (Evelyn Waugh’s elegiac Brideshead Revisited) gathers up Jenna and Charlie in its jaws. Laura pulls strings; risks wrecking lives she believes she’s enriching; and finds bliss at a climactic writers’ conference. This very unusual novel’s ballsy premise and haywire momentum are juggled expertly by the accomplished Hamilton, who somehow circumvents legitimate objections (e.g., no reader will believe Laura would not have foreseen Jenna’s and Charlie’s reactions to being thus thrust together) and keeps us eagerly guessing what further craziness lies in pages ahead. The harrowing story of how her father died serves to explain the narrowness of Laura’s vision; nonetheless, she’s never fully credible as a mixture of unpretentious charm and emotionally stunted duplicity—it’s as if Mary Pickford and Joan Crawford took turns playing the same person in the same movie. Charlie, however, is a wonderful character and an irresistible enigma: “Dreamer, yes; underdog, yes; artist, yes; bonkers, yes.”
Eccentric, intriguing, almost perversely readable and entertaining. Hamilton never disappoints.