Tropper follows his lightweight Plan B (2000) with a light but solid first-person story of a novelist who hits big money with a Peyton Place–esque outing but feels as beset as Job.
Seventeen years after leaving his hometown, Joe Goffman has trashed it in his moneymaker Bush Falls, moved to a fancy apartment on Central Park West in Manhattan, has had endless chicks, and now for six months has taken up a celibacy that leaves him lonely, self-pitying, and sex-starved. His agent lives like a Roman Emperor off Joe’s book and film sales but thinks Joe’s “postmodern” new novel is beneath him. Joe’s sister-in-law Cindy calls to say his father has had a stroke and Joe should come back to Bush Falls, where townsfolk once tried to sue him. He returns as Joe Schmuck, disliked by all: Deputy Sheriff Mouse, ex-con Sean Tallon, and basketball star older brother Brad, among others, while finding himself tearfully still in love with high-school sweetheart Carly, who has a Harvard degree in journalism and edits the local paper. And then there are his old buddies, frenetic Sammy and easygoing Wayne (dying of AIDS). His schizo mother leapt into Bush Falls when Joe was 12, so she’s not around to hate him. Will Joe—in his silver Mercedes and having learned nothing from You Can’t Go Home Again—reform, grow up, and become a lovable human being? The tone for his homecoming is established through a scene in the local diner: Francine Dugan, the wife of high-school Coach Dugan, whom Joe has maliciously and untruthfully described in his novel as a masturbator in love with the bodies of young boys, dumps a milkshake on his head. It will take death and ashes, not to mention the immolation of his Mercedes, for Joe and virtue to bind and for Joe to find hope in his pursuit of Carly.
Some sprinkles of excellence provide pep without lifting the whole.