A characteristically quirky fourth novel from Jones (Radiance, 2011, etc.) explores how plastic surgery propels a middle-aged minister-turned-realtor into losing his virginity and contemplating marriage.
John Gegenuber had a harelip. But now, at 49, he’s had the disfigurement corrected and has made a new friend in his Recovery Group. Thalia Kunst, some 20 years his junior, also had a lip problem, but now, she’s been released into beauty. After a chaste kiss, Thalia makes a reservation for them at a fancy hotel, boldness overcoming her natural modesty. This is happening in Marin County, Calif., home of hot tubs, pricey real estate and apparently magical hookups. John, a realtor, used to be an Episcopalian minister until he tired of church showbiz, though his faith is still intact. Thalia is a horticultural therapist, using mentally challenged adults as landscape gardeners. Their plastic surgeon happens to be one of her clients; John joins her and her charges on a trip to the doctor’s estate after the two have spent their big night together. No details are forthcoming, other than that their lovemaking did not include birth control measures. Their life as a married couple seems a foregone conclusion. John frequently pauses in his dryly humorous account to share his thoughts on religion, real estate and their affinities, so we’re kept off balance, and the author delights in curveballs, such as an imminent childbirth. Francesca, one of Thalia’s flock, goes into labor on the surgeon’s estate. A cesarean is required. The doctor, in Europe, will walk them through the procedure on the phone. John must switch between the ordeal of cutting and handling a home-sale problem on his cellphone. This would be surreal if Jones’ portrayal of the operation, the attitudes of the mentally handicapped bystanders and the machinations of rival realtors was not so exceptionally convincing; only a satisfying conclusion eludes him.
Body and soul get equal consideration in a novel that confounds expectations of what will be revealed and concealed; perverse, perhaps, but undeniably piquant.