A modern-day twist on Flaubert’s Madame Bovary sets the story in small-town America.
Keech (A Hundred Veils, 2015) takes on a literary classic in this novel, which follows the romantic and social trials and tribulations of Emma Bovant and her husband, Charles. Emma is a suburban homemaker with professional aspirations; Charles is a caricature of the 21st-century social justice warrior, a tutor/social worker who struggles to make rent while insisting on buying organic food. Financial tensions between the two are simmering when Charles finds a new career goal and a potential sponsor. He decides to become a life coach to a wealthy local woman, Bea Doggit, who pays him $150 an hour for his services. Emma quickly becomes jealous of the relationship, professional or otherwise, developing between her husband and Bea; the first third of the book is mostly an account of romantic envy. Emma eventually realizes, however, that something larger is at play in her sphere. Bea, a realtor, is collaborating with a local pastor to push a major real estate deal through the small town. But for their plan to succeed, they must convince Andre Smyth, Charles’ friend from college, to sell his land along the river. Andre is the opposite of the local culture. Whereas Bea is a Bible-thumping, community-spirited denizen of the modern world, Andre is gay, Bohemian, and a self-avowed intellectual. As the reader realizes that Bea is manipulating Charles to exploit his friendship with Andre, Emma develops a sexual attraction to a man she can never have. Keech’s book never approaches the heights of Flaubert’s landmark novel, but it does cultivate a compelling sense of drama, especially when it focuses on the real estate plotline (At one point, Bea asks Charles for help with Andre: “We just think you might be the only one who can convince him to accept a fantastic price for his property”). Emma’s jealousy toward Bea, on the other hand, feels disproportionate early on, and readers may find her emotional struggle histrionic. Then again, the same could be said at times of Emma Bovary. This tale should please readers who enjoy romantic drama, and may be of interest to fans of Flaubert.
An amusing, if drawn-out, satire of suburban life.