Simon explores the unlikely effects of a cancer diagnosis in his darkly comedic debut novel.
Eliot Abrams is the chief marketing officer of De-Lish Chix, “the fifth largest franchise food operation on the planet.” When he meets people, he can accurately guess what cars they drive and how their offices are decorated. He has a beautiful wife, who runs her own business, and two young children. He has a golf handicap of 4. He never gets hangovers. When people meet him, they say things like, “You’re obviously a very smart man.” The only real problem in his life is that his job requires him to live in provincial Kansas City, Missouri. Oh, and that he’s been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Also—and this is just a smallish thing—he’s decided to murder his boss. With a probable death sentence hanging over his head and feeling ever less in control of his fate, Eliot attempts to reassert his own agency and go down swinging. As the oppressive clouds of his careerist lifestyle gather and darken, Eliot plots an act of liberation, learning that a proximity to death (his own or someone else’s) makes him feel alive in ways he’s never encountered before. Simon is a highly capable storyteller with a fluid sense of scene and a snarky sense of humor. He treats his plot and his characters with a refreshingly disdainful glee: this is not a story meant to tug on the reader’s heartstrings but to invite readers to fantasize about the sort of freedom that people normally forget they possess. Eliot is witty and humorously morose but not immediately likable: he’s arrogant, elitist, and self-centered. Yet this is what makes him an engaging character. He feels suitably real and therefore enticingly dangerous. Not that realism is Simon’s project. Drama and comedy are heightened just enough to make the novel a work of highly entertaining fancy. The book is longer than it needs to be, but questions about the lives that hang in the balance—along with Eliot’s quips —keep the reader turning pages to the end.
A pleasing comic novel with fatal stakes and a cynical edge.