Move over, millennials: There are few folks younger than 50 in the love-thwarted but intriguing circle of friends created by debut novelist Dainty.
The center of the action is an unhappy London family, riven by a recent divorce. Wife Penny is seeking peace of mind through a solipsistic life in a charming French town; adult daughter Emily has escaped to India, where she's a devotee of an unseen guru; and grown son Matthew is a nonrecovering druggie. Husband Sandy, a once-celebrated songwriter whose inattention and infidelities broke up the marriage, is faring worst of all; early in the book, he tries unsuccessfully to commit suicide by hurling himself in front of an oncoming car. The surrounding characters are middle-aged friends of the couple; most carefully drawn is Jeremy, Sandy’s school friend and benefactor, a boastful, Madoff-like financier. No one in this crowd can find the formula for an enduring romantic relationship, least of all Tim, an impotent therapist whose longtime marriage to the irritating Angie is nevertheless the matrimonial prizewinner here. Despite the midlife angst that abounds, Australian-born journalist Dainty, who lives in rural England, knows how to tell a good story and keeps the narrative moving. A notable exception, though, is the geriatric sex scenes, which are unconvincing or, worse, gross. (Sandy’s “penis jumped like a minnow in a stream, then retracted. It wasn’t used to this.”) Jeremy, who has a predilection for rough sex with underage girls, ultimately betrays Sandy, though the songwriter had saved him from doom decades before. In the end, almost everyone is damaged goods with little chance of achieving satisfaction.
No good news can be good news nonetheless; the troubled cast’s tribulations make for an absorbing read.