In L.A. blogger Sarvas’s debut, a guilt-ridden 40-something doctor, stunned by his wife’s death during cosmetic surgery, tries to remake himself with the aid of two waitresses, an abridged edition of The Count of Monte Cristo and a podiatrist.
The novel opens with Harry Rent fantasizing about a raven-haired hash-slinger—Monte Cristo sandwich slinger—in the diner where he has stopped en route to his wife’s funeral. Is he just horny, or unhinged by grief? Both, it turns out. In fact, he’s presently unhinged by grief because he was horny: Poor Anna underwent breast augmentation after she learned that her hubby was consorting with prostitutes. Throughout the novel Anna’s sister, Claire, hounds her brother-in-law. Harry does feel terrible, in his narcissistic way. At the diner, he tries to impress his server-beloved by playing white knight to her older, uglier, footsore co-worker Lucille. Sarvas visits all sorts of misfortunes on Harry: On a stakeout to discover just what sorts of rich-benefactor-type good deeds Lucille might need, Harry settles outside Lucille’s bathroom window. Repulsed by her ample flesh, he’s startled into a noisy fall, then is urinated on by an avenging neighbor. As the book progresses and the humiliations mount, Harry gropes toward reclaiming his decency; he wouldn’t mind getting the girl too. Sarvas alternates present-day chapters with surprisingly affecting flashbacks from Harry’s marriage. The book is fast-paced; there are nice comic touches; and Harry is, finally, rather compelling, selfish and damaged but recognizably human. But despite the author’s stylistic resources, the novel can be ham-handed—unconvincing or unfunny in its farce, overly insistent on emotion, awkward in its omniscient narration. Many sentences are overwrought or plain clumsy: “It’s a strange, enervating paralysis that suffuses him.”
Oscillates between earnestness and slapstick, and never seems quite comfortable in either.