The star of Marx’s comic novel hits the low-self-esteem trifecta: She’s a failed academic, a disappointing daughter and one man’s emotional doormat.
Eugene Obello is a pretentious, duplicitous chore of a person: A self-styled “philosophic analyst,” he’ll tell anybody who’ll listen about his intellectual endeavors, constantly note that his grandfather was once up for a Nobel Prize and woo (many) women with purple lines like, “my heart is with you, my ever-new enchantment.” And the unnamed heroine of Marx’s comic novel adores him—or, rather, she’s the kind of woman who’s so insecure that she’s flattered by his attentions. She was hapless as a student in Cambridge, England, where she met Eugene—she considered sleeping with a man she just met because she needed directions back to her dorm, the interviewers she hired to work on her nebulous, ever-changing thesis shook her down for money and she blew off her research to moon over Eugene even though he’d married somebody else. Her confidence slightly improves years later in New York, where she gets work as a writer on a B-list sketch-comedy show and a floundering kiddie program (she helps produce a segment called “The Time-Out Electric Chair”). But when Eugene reenters her life she’s back to her old self-destructive ways. A former Saturday Night Live writer and regular contributor of humor pieces to the New Yorker, Marx hasn’t written a novel so much as erected a narrative scaffold that’s just sturdy enough to contain all the gags she crams in, and there are some great one-liners like, “Dysfunctional families work just fine” and “Hypochondriacs make me sick.” Not all of it works; Marx overstuffs the story with secondary characters, and it’s time for a permanent ban on satirical typeface notes. But when she sticks to what are clearly her two favorite topics—cheating, narcissistic men and condescending, guilt-inducing parents—her jokes hit the target.
A sprawling but very funny tale; if insecurity is the source of great humor, Marx has hit the mother lode.