Girlfriend problems, workplace problems, deadbeat dad problems, even a cancer scare: The sky is falling on the hapless protagonist of Tropper’s third (The Book of Joe, 2004, etc.).
A very minor earthquake rattles windows in Manhattan, and Zack instinctively reaches out for Tamara before remembering he’s in bed with Hope. The author signals us right off the bat that Tamara is Zack’s soulmate, though it takes 300-plus pages for true love to win out. There are, in fact, good reasons for 32-year-old Zack’s ambivalence. While both women are gorgeous (and feebly differentiated), Tamara is the widow of Zack’s best friend, Rael, who died in a car crash that Zack survived. So he’s now cast in the role of sympathetic friend to Tamara and her small daughter, Sophie, whereas with Hope there are no complications. That’s why the smart, sophisticated Upper East Sider is Zack’s fiancée, and the engagement party is just days away. Zack sees himself as the middleman, unable to turn Hope loose or declare himself to Tamara. In his job, which he hates, he really is a middleman, brokering deals between vendors and manufacturers. Add to the mix Zack’s father, Norm, who shows up after many years’ absence and a bitter divorce from wife Lela. Here again, Zack is ambivalent, raging at his old man’s fecklessness but moved despite himself by Dad’s sentimental warmth. All this, and then Zack rushes to the urologist after seeing blood in his urine. Tropper seems conflicted too. Should he go for bittersweet realism or for laughs? There are lots of Viagra jokes and three slapstick brawls—the last one at the engagement party, when Hope’s father goes ballistic after catching Zack and Tamara smooching. Then Tropper pulls a rabbit out of the hat in the form of an adorable five-year-old, for a shamelessly weepy finale.
Touching and true descriptions of Zack’s broken family, including a lovely vignette of his retarded brother; the rest is fluff.