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A middle-aged grandmother named Barbara—alone, friendless, adrift and in a foaming rage that lasts from first page to last—embarks on a series of lacerating rants and escalating misadventures.

Shakin (The Cure for Sodomy, 2006, etc.) begins butchering bourgeois conventions on the first page. Drunk at a party hosted by her daughter, Barbara gives a sip of martini to her five-year-old grandson, that “small leaky creature who simply refuses to leave her alone no matter how much she tells him to piss off.” She flirts lingeringly with a French waiter, gets him fired, then goes home with this “smelliest man alive” for a night of restorative sex. Soon she decamps from the suburbs to a new apartment in the city. Eventually, a depleted store of gin and a broken vibrator make her emerge in search of sustenance for liver and loins. There’s unlimited gin, a meteoric rise as a singer in a drag karaoke bar, an interlude with an enthusiastic Brazilian plumber with an anal fixation, a love affair of sorts with a poet on methadone whom she has to ply with heroin in order to make him capable of consummation…and the beat—or the beat-down—goes on. There are pungently funny bits: Of one character it is said, “She decides he’s not gay, just very poetic.” Shakin also provides some delectably bitter aphorisms: “Watching TV all the time makes you clinically inane.” Grandma’s aggressive cynicism could work if there were vulnerability underneath, but there’s not much. Eventually this buzz saw of a novel runs out of sacred cows and turns the blades on itself.

Despite a spirit of dyspeptic, mean-spirited fun, ultimately this is exhausting and one-note.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-57962-163-6
Page count: 216pp
Publisher: Permanent Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2008