In Michaels’ debut novel, a professor explores sexual relationships with his cousins and in-laws.
On the surface, Jon Marcus seems to live a rather ordinary existence as a history professor with a wife and daughter, but his life has been far from conventional. Early in the novel, readers meet Jon’s cousin Julie; even as children, Jon and Julie’s mutual attraction is palpable, and by the time they are of legal age, they can’t help but consummate their love. Their affair gives them a son—a secret they keep from the boy, named Jayson, and later from their respective spouses. Jon goes on to have sexual relations with another cousin, Cheryl; his brother’s wife, Wendy; and his wife’s sister, Laura. But when his mother is diagnosed with lung cancer, his life begins to unravel. His son reappears in a surprising, ironic way, as Jon tries to remain afloat while everything around him seems to be sinking. Readers may be tempted to see the book as a simple chronicle of conquests, but Jon’s genuine, down-to-earth manner makes it hard to dismiss him as a kinky playboy. The plot is even somewhat Shakespearean—thick with outlandish characters and themes of deception and love. As such, the novel may seem a bit over-the-top at times, but it’s well-written and often funny, as when Jon says, “I could do a short guidebook on romantic Italian restaurants to take your sisters-in-law to before and after you sleep with them.” It’s also quite self-aware, which keeps the plot from becoming silly; for example, academic Jon is interested in laws and taboos, which allows Michaels to weave several literary references about love and masculinity into the story. Conventional familial relationships, the novel seems to say, can be much darker than forbidden ones.
An engaging, eccentric take on love and family.