That particularly American novel, examining the soul-crushing consequences of suburban prosperity, is modernized here as a successful financier looks around his life and sees a wasteland.
Southerner Anders Hill went to great lengths to avoid the upstanding conformity his father had planned for him, but at age 60, he’s not sure what difference it’s made. Sickened by the greed of Wall Street and his own personal culpability in all sorts of financial collateral damage, Anders embarks on a kind of slash-and-burn approach to his life: He opts for early retirement, asks his wife, Helene, for a divorce (kindly put on hold for a year while she recovers from a double mastectomy), stops paying the mortgage on their colonial and holes up in a condo he furnishes with Winslow Homer posters and decorative lobster traps. Anders’ existential crisis, simmering for 20 years, is a rejection of everything he’s built—the beautiful house in a tony Connecticut bedroom community (think Greenwich), two sons and a lovely wife—but now what? Meanwhile, thanks to Facebook, Helene has a boyfriend, Donny, who was Anders’ college roommate and Helene’s college boyfriend. An outcast among their friends, Anders has formed an unlikely friendship with Charlie, the rebellious teenage son of Mitchell and Sophie Ashby. After smoking PCP with Charlie at a holiday party (which sends Charlie to the hospital), Anders begins to fall apart in subtle but disturbing ways. Anders and Helene’s son Preston is an adult version of Charlie. After a wasted youth following Phish, dealing drugs, and beginning and quitting various programs and colleges, he finally has a college degree but not enough sense to use it. The three stages of the Connecticut man—Charlie, Preston and Anders—in this land of steady habits, have the instinct to rebel but lack the imagination to live happily.
Thompson’s sharp-eyed debut is that kind of searing portrait of American wealth unraveling that is both dazzling and immeasurably sad.