In this novel, a group of friends gathers to pay respect to a retired Air Force major following his untimely death in an auto accident.
Sharp’s debut is a frame narrative of impressive scope and quality. Between the visitation and interment of Frank Miller, an omniscient narrator defines the role of seven individuals in Frank’s life. In 22 well-paced, retrospective chapters—beginning in 1960 and continuing at intervals to 2010—readers will come to know and relate to these characters. (The script for The Big Chill is strikingly similar, if not as thematically rich.) Stylistically, the novel unfolds by means of colorful dialogue and pungent observations typical of Henry James. Sharp’s astute commentary guides the reader through motivations not otherwise apparent. Many chapters involve Frank’s second wife, Lillian, and his oldest friend, Sam, who brought the two together. Sam, however, keeps from him the high school intimacy he shared with Lillian. Defiantly promiscuous and rebellious as a teenager, Lillian remains a seductress and risk-taker in adulthood. This includes a liaison with Ted, another of Frank’s longtime friends, before she marries Frank when they are both firmly rooted in middle age. Business colleagues Ben and Rafi appear at a memorable business lunch in 1980 that provides the title of the novel. As the colleagues argue about the message scrawled above the urinals in the restaurant’s restroom, some readers may find the novel’s irreverence on par with Joseph Heller’s. Beth—one of Frank’s business colleagues—and Sam’s wife, Fran, are also major players, but other spouses, ex-wives, adult children and lovers take on secondary yet intriguing roles. Each of the major characters has something to hide from Frank, primarily of a sexual nature. But Frank has something he hides from them, too, in this sassy and bold look at life well-lived.
A novel too good to be ignored.