A suave ego-/erotomaniac more than half in love with easeful death.
Protagonist and narrator of Christensen’s mordantly amusing third novel (following Jeremy Thrane, 2001) is Hugo Whittier, the 40-year-old black-sheep scion of a wealthy Upstate New York family, who records in several “notebooks” his retreat to the unkempt Whittier mansion Waverley (named for Sir Walter Scott’s novel), after itinerant years as a “kept boy” in Europe and America, among other immoralities. Also a self-taught gourmet cook and incorrigible gourmand, Hugo persists in living well, despite suffering from Buerger’s disease, a painful and incurable condition rendered lethal by cigarette smoking—another of the many pleasures he refuses to relinquish. Hugo’s hermetic (and hermitic) paradise is gradually infested by snakes: first, his older brother Dennis, an underachieving sculptor discarded by his wife Marie (a forthright psychotherapist), then by his estranged wife Sonia and (so she claims) his ten-year-old daughter Bellatrix. Meanwhile, Hugo is worming his way into Marie’s social graces; subtly romancing her teenaged au pair Louisa; considering the sexual potential of Marie’s uptight younger sister “Vero”(nica); flirting meaningfully with cheerful slut-waitress Carla, and frolicking in motel rooms with ripe matron Stephanie Fox, in retreat from her hypochondriac pedophile husband and stalled in an intended affair with Dennis (remember him?). Furthermore, Hugo is being stalked by (supposedly retired) hit man Shlomo Levy, engaged to waste him by a former lover on whom Hugo had cheated with a Swedish exchange student. These delirious complications, and many others, are related in a rakish voice further accented by Hugo’s delighted perusal of Montaigne’s essays and the savory prose of “food writer” (and, he feels, kindred spirit) M.F.K. Fisher. Hugo’s introverted love of his own cleverness can be wearying, but Christensen’s inventive plot keeps the reader happily hooked.
First-rate adult entertainment, as they say, and Christensen’s most impressive yet.