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The decline and fall of a wealthy family, including a clinical drug trial, insider trading, subprime mortgages, and a terrible opera.

McManus is a talented prose stylist, but her first book might better be called The Unpleasants. Extremely wealthy, boorish, self-centered, emotionally handicapped people who behave awfully to each other, the mother and son at the center of this story are not appealing enough to sustain a novel. Cecilia Somner, the matriarch, spends most of the novel in a care facility, where she's participating in the trial of a drug that will hopefully cure her Parkinson's-like disease. The pills cause a murderous impatience: "This side effect's most seductive feature is how it imitates the wicked pleasure she used to take in discovering the weakest edge of a person, the pleasure of saying something truthful and unkind. A part of herself she'd meant to protect her children from. Only, had she?" Based on the behavior of her son, George, and daughter, Patricia, one would think not. George is a mess of a man whose family fortune has fixed everything in his life, starting with a rape or near-rape he committed as an undergraduate at Yale. He's since married a coat-check girl he met on a golf vacation, and poor Iris will soon be stuck with far more than she can handle as her delusional husband writes a sexist, racist, and downright horrible opera and secretly finances its New York production with huge personal loans. Iris is supposed to be the sympathetic member of the clan, but she doesn't quite gel. The book insists she didn't marry George for his money but never makes any other reason plausible. She already has the affections of the only appealing character of the lot: a big red dog named 3D.

The rich are not like you and me, but if they're as awful as they are in this book, God help them.

Pub Date: June 2nd, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-374-11450-3
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2015


FictionBY NIGHTFALL by Michael Cunningham
by Michael Cunningham