Family drama with surreal touches finds British former pop star Wener (of the ’90s band Sleeper) back in good form.
When her overachieving lawyer brother Daniel goes missing, family failure Claire is the only one with a clue. The theory that he’s intentionally disappeared with help from a mysterious Japanese organization may be far-fetched, but she follows the story from London back to Miami, where the family had spent a few tragic years. While her alcoholic mother, beautiful sister and Daniel’s perfect wife remain caught up in their own preconceptions, the broke, divorced Claire follows a series of odd clues. A waitress in a basement sushi joint provides one lead, a scary Russian sailor another, and soon Claire is on the road, accompanied by her ex-husband, Michael. Trustworthy only in that she knows he will disappoint her, Michael also serves as a means of returning to the city of her youth, moving them in with the dysfunctional Huey and Tess, and their boa constrictor, Harvey Weinstein. While things were weird before—that Japanese organization may only be a television program—they get truly bizarre in America, thanks in part to Valium-laced margaritas. But as Claire learns that her instincts are actually good, it’s her expectations that need adjusting. Some of the characters here are merely caricatures. The rude waitress, for example, sounds like a badly translated haiku: “How empty it would make a man feel,” she says. “How rotten and bruised like soft autumnal fruit dropped prematurely from the tree.” And some situations, such as the encounter with the pet boa’s namesake, are straight slapstick. But even the odder characters ring true emotionally, no matter what their obsessions—and that saves them.
Under the funky trappings, Wener’s third (after The Perfect Play, 2004) is a satisfying coming-of-age novel with a sympathetic heroine.