The sorry sequel to Svenson’s debut, Washed Up with a Broken Heart in Rock Hall (2004), begins less than a year after Budge Moss’s wife leaves him forlorn and loveless on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Why would a writer in his mid-50s dumped by his wife of 26 years—an attractive lady who grandly outearns him and has obviously outgrown him—agree to drive across country with her? Herein lie our ungainly protagonist’s attractions: Budge is intelligent, sensitive, and vulnerable, like most divorcées in fashionable novels, except that this one is male. And, after some months alone at the beach with his cat, he does find a generous, warm woman who burns for him in the sack, this being the comely golfer Matty, who has lots of money and a house that Budge is free to share—although she’s a bit coy about her age. How old is she? Budge has to know. The problem is that he doesn’t feel love for Matty (or her house, in its gated community), and his marriage still haunts him: “He’s not free of its residual gravity,” says Svenson, in his smart-writerly tone. So, when the soon-to-be-ex-wife approaches Budge for a road trip, he jumps aboard, and the two spend days driving to California, grating on each other’s nerves just like in the golden days as a married couple. Svenson’s strength as a novelist is his hang-all candidness, especially about matters sexual. As he describes our intrepid Moss: “A dangly old penis that still rose to the occasion, but had to be coaxed to its seedy thump, more dribble than spurt, and afterwards was as useless as vermiform appendix—for a good 12 hours or more.” Soon-to-be-ex actually invites him into her hotel bed (“Oh all right! Do it and get it over with!”) with such breathtaking callousness that old Budge will win miles of sympathy from even the stoniest feminist reader.
A writer unafraid to scour the cringing hearts of the high-middle-aged.