Two separated lovers are set on a collision course, in a trenchant fourth novel by the author of, most recently, St. Famous (1996).
Dee makes approaches from opposite ends of the time spectrum to tell the story of Molly and John. First, there’s John Wheelright, a young New York ad executive in a modest crisis about the direction his life is (or isn’t) taking. He has a comfortable job, a good wage, and a no-stress girlfriend, but he’s at a loss for a greater purpose. Things fly into a tizzy when he gets a sudden offer: Mal Osbourne, a reclusive mad genius of the advertising world, is starting up a groundbreaking new firm in Charlottesville. Then, from the other end of the time continuum, there’s the grimmer story of Molly Howe. Molly is a disaffected child growing up in the tiny, depressed town of Ulster, New York. Given her distant parents and somewhat troubled nature, it isn’t a surprise when she becomes a sullen and rebellious adolescent, eventually getting caught in flagrante delicto. Eager to be rid of her, Molly’s parents pack her off to Berkeley, where she stays with her older brother Richard, a born-again, commune-living Christian. Without paying tuition, she sneaks into university classes and there makes friends with John Wheelwright at a younger age. Soon they’re living together in an uneasy meshing of Molly’s brooding, guilt-ridden self and John’s polite desire to help. Molly eventually goes AWOL, breaking John’s heart, though their paths will again cross at Palladio, a dreamlike place where the messianic Osbourne extols the creation of advertising that is really modern art. Dee’s prose can transcend the sometime contrivances of his own tale: Whether describing the economic ravaging of a dying small town or the minute details of a troubled relationship, he hits the nail on the head time and again.
While it’s much more than a love story, Palladio is chiefly about love. Heartache, though, is the true coin in this realm.