Scenes from the vacuous lives of a family of wealthy narcissists.
Arnoldi (Chemical Pink, 2001) has a sharp eye for the foibles of pampered, dysfunctional Angelenos. This second novel, though replete with the author’s trademark kinky eroticism and mordant style, is regrettably diffuse, perhaps because all of the characters, including maids and mistresses and mistresses’ ex-boyfriends, get a voice. The matriarch and patriarch of the prosperous Bel Air Wentworths, Judith and August, resemble types now overly familiar from reality TV. Judith is OCD about thinness, hair color, her maids’ housecleaning and keeping track of her “stuff.” August forestalls encroaching old age by mainlining scotch and trysting with Honey, a single mom who is actually a fugitive from Mormon polygamists. The Wentworths’s eldest son Conrad is the fixer/lawyer they call whenever younger son Norman ends up in jail. Conrad fancies himself a Mafioso and enjoys bondage games and subjugating females, including underage girls. Norman, 35, lives in a guesthouse on his parents’ grounds. Gay, friendless and directionless, he can’t escape his insular world of thwarted longings. Daughter Becky, skinny clone of Judith, pops pills to cope with her children, coke-snorting teen Monica and dreamy kleptomaniac Joey. After much preliminary profiling, conflict finally ignites: Conrad dumps his latest girlfriend, Angela, after introducing her at a family dinner (his girlfriend-dumping M.O.), and Judith’s prized silver sugar tongs go missing. Unlike Conrad’s other conquests, who all bore an uncanny resemblance to Judith, Angela fights back. Telling Conrad she’s pregnant, she stalks him and the other Wentworths (except Norman, who stalks her). Judith pesters family and servants about the missing tongs. Becky, her long-suffering husband, Paul, and the kids seek family therapy after Paul discovers Joey’s cache of stolen goods—including the tongs. In a disappointing dénouement, Conrad is outgunned, not outgamed, by Angela. Doubtless intended as tongue-in-cheek, an epilogue meting out redemptive or at least just deserts to all comes off as pat.
Raises compelling issues only to duck them.