The prolific postmodernist (Phone Rings, 2005, etc.) profiles a writer trawling for material among family memories and fantasies.
It’s safe to say that the name of the writer is Meyer Ostrower, and that he lives with his wife Sandra in a Baltimore suburb; safe because this information is given frequently. It’s also safe to say that Sandra is 11 years younger than the 68-year-old Meyer. Other details are more murky (we’re given two versions of how they met) and sometimes Meyer flat out contradicts himself, as in his account of groping a female neighbor. An unreliable narrator, indeed. Supposedly, Meyer is a tenured professor, but we don’t see him on campus; when he’s not taking trips down memory lane, he’s home doing chores (there’s a whole section on cleaning the kitchen), napping or sitting at his typewriter (he’s seriously blocked). At the beginning, he’s having sex with his wife in the bathroom, but Meyer’s no stud; most of the time he can barely get it up. Death, not sex, is his major preoccupation. What if Sandra dies? Will it be fast or slow? How will he die? Pneumonia, heart attack? As for his mother, “he’s covered her death plenty,” but maybe he can treat it from a new angle. In one section, deaths reach a crescendo as his phone never stops ringing with news of another death, some eight in all—mostly relatives but a Siamese cat is part of the mix. It’s an absurdist sequence with an energy that’s lacking in his dreary recollections of attending his mother and his stepfather in their final days, or his fantasy of approaching his wife as a complete stranger. He’s his current age, but she’s much younger, and naturally she rejects him. The scene has an inherent futility, the same futility that dogs his attempt to write Sandra a letter after years of housekeeping notes.
An anemic mishmash—for loyal fans only.