In this debut novel, a 30-something man reviews his dysfunctional marriage to a vegan woman and its tragic ending.
For Mason McLaughlin, who grew up in the state of New Jersey, New York City is “where the magic happens!” He lives and works there as a software programmer, and still loves it, he says, “in spite of what has happened to me here.” Over the course of the novel, he relates exactly what happened to him. He was in love with proofreader Katherine Flanagan, but their four-year relationship broke up because he wanted to get married and have children, and she didn’t. About a year after the breakup, Mason started dating an attractive woman named Tessa Andersson, the vice president of the audit division at his workplace. They didn’t agree on everything; Mason found her veganism annoying, for example, and Tessa thought that he drank too much with his friends. (For him, six drinks was only one too many.) Still, Mason went along with what Tessa wanted to do—rising early on weekends to explore new places, for example, although he actually wanted to stay home and relax. He soon moved in with her, despite their weekly arguments, and when she accidentally got pregnant, Mason was delighted. He proposed marriage after she strongly hinted that she wanted him to do so. When their baby, Noah, was born, Mason adored being a father, but he and Tessa still fought constantly. She didn’t want to have Noah vaccinated, when he gained weight too slowly and lost strength, she refused to feed him formula—even a soy-based one. Couples counseling didn’t help them. Then a terrible tragedy ensued, followed by a jury trial, but at his nadir, Mason got a phone call from Katherine that gave him hope.
Mascarenhas effectively captures the drinking-buddy culture of his narrator, as well as the atmosphere of New York City; for instance, the bed in Mason’s tiny apartment is apparently only seven steps from the door. However, much is troubling about the narrator’s characterization. The novel often reassures readers that he’s a catch, with other characters mentioning nearly a dozen times that he’s “handsome”; Tessa, who isn’t he only co-worker to be interested in Mason, tells him, “I have done some major research on you in the office and the report came out A+.” But what this report is based on is unclear, as Mason comes across as passive, incurious, and largely devoid of personality, with no interests beyond drinking, playing video games, and watching TV. He’s also inconsiderate of others: “She had warned me about using a condom when we had sex, but I never listened.” Worst of all, Mason ignores his fears about Noah in the face of Tessa’s unreasonable behavior: “She would always find a way to shut me up.” Late in the novel, when he credits Noah for reconnecting him with Katherine— as if it’s the silver lining of a very dark cloud—it feels both sentimental and horrid.
A feel-bad novel with an unsympathetic narrator.