THE FAMILY MAN by Joseph Monninger

THE FAMILY MAN

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Peter, the narrator of this not-ungifted but painfully self-conscious first novel, is an accountant and suburban father of two who sounds as if he's just flailed his second or third reading of Sartre's Nausea. ""We came from nowhere to go nowhere. I am alone. . . . Trees bend to one another, whispering. They know I am an intruder. They know I am lost. . . . I realize somewhere deep inside that the storm is in its death throes. It rattles on the silence in each of us."" All those hollow broodings appear on a single page here; and, throughout, Peter's over-tooled, enervating narration delivers a near-parody of existential Alienation--alternating between flat, mundane details and lyrical (or bitterly aphoristic) images. There's a family barbecue with wife Jill, small children Ron and Loft. The next day Peter goes to his unfulfilling job at the office, drinks coffee (""It bites the back of the throat""), has a roast beef sandwich for lunch (""It jams up to the gums on my first bite""), drinks beer (I ""feel it burn my tongue""), goes home and buries his dead dog. But then the family is off for a week in a borrowed summer-cottage on a lake in Maine--and for a little while it seems as if Peter will find some redemption from terminal angst in the wild (""A tremendous yearning dances in on me""). He goes for cleansing swims, teaches Ron about fishing, gets a little closer to both children, confesses his inner torment to Jill: ""It's more than the rat race. It's just an ache. It's a hollowness."" Finally, however, after confronting his ""absurd"" youthful dreams (literary ambitions) and feeling a falseness with both wife and kids, Peter ends up reaching out to the vividness of danger. . . and causes Ron's death--which, like virtually everything here, is earnestly explained: ""l used him to give me this pain, silently knowing it was all that could give me life."" Nonetheless, this denouement (like Peter's entire self-portrait) seems completely artificial--a purely literary device. And virtually every paragraph here is nudged over into preciousness by one metaphor or reflection too many, with even the well-observed moments (the father/child interactions) often ruined by heavy-handed commentary. Some evidence here and there of real talent, then--but mostly this reads more like promising student work than a full-fledged fiction debut.

Pub Date: March 29th, 1982
Publisher: Atheneum