First-rate adult entertainment, as they say, and Christensen’s most impressive yet.

THE EPICURE’S LAMENT

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.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 2004

ISBN: 0-7679-1030-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2003

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

FIREFLY LANE

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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