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Portrait of a well-heeled wimp.

When we first see Arthur Camden he’s crying his eyes out. The middle-aged New Yorker has reached his nadir. He has run the family import-export business into the ground, and his trampy wife Rebecca has divorced him. Arthur’s a member of an exclusive fishing club, the Fly Casters, and he has his tearful breakdown in front of his fellow members, believing them to be his friends. He’s wrong; for most of them he’s a figure of fun, but there’s an exception, Ken Fielder, who fixes Arthur up with some dates which don’t pan out. Then Arthur dates a woman called Rixa who insists he show her the club’s luxurious lodge in the Catskills, though it’s breaking the rules to sneak in strangers. The evening is a disaster; accident-prone Arthur causes a fire and bursts into tears as the club burns down. He’s forced to resign, but he still has his Park Avenue apartment and enough money to sustain a work-free lifestyle. Time to escape Manhattan. He takes up the reluctantly proffered invitation of an old school friend with a nice spread in the French Alps, but Prentice Ross is no more a friend now than his erstwhile fishing buddies. He’s a neglectful host, an angry alcoholic who lands Arthur in trouble with the cops; lacking the guts to deck Ross, Arthur beats a hasty retreat to Switzerland. Instead of a plot Dahlie arranges a series of scenes that humiliate Arthur without granting him self-knowledge; the point being, presumably, that there’s no fool like an old fool. At a family reunion on Nantucket he steals his cousin’s watch, an expensive family heirloom, only to have its loud alarm incriminate him, a moment of primitive farce. Farce is followed by wild improbability when ex-wife Rebecca, quite drunk, pressures Arthur into meaningless sex, leading him to hope for a reconciliation. Fat chance.

Touted as a comedy, Dahlie’s debut is an exercise in schadenfreude that is not remotely funny.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-393-06617-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2008