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by Tom Drury

Pub Date: June 30th, 1998
ISBN: 0-395-70194-5
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

An irresistibly droll portrayal of an All-American liar, loser, and innocent dominates this edgy, captivating second novel by the author of The End of Vandalism (1994). Drury’s protagonist is Paul Emmons (formerly Nash), an accountant whose hapless complicity in a money-laundering scam sets him and his wife Mary on a furtive odyssey abroad (thanks to the Witness Security Program), then frequently back to the US to gaze longingly at the New England property they own but don’t dare claim. Drury manipulates his quirky narrative expertly, flashing backward to Paul’s college days (at a Quebec diploma mill) and friendship with housemates “Loom” and Alice (who later marry) and then to his unfortunate business alliance (in Providence) with Carlo Record, one-armed president of “New England Amusements.” Paul is hired as “swing reporter” by the Ashland (Rhode Island) Sun; investigates the death of a teacher who may have committed suicide; reunites with his old roomies (and begins an affair with Alice); then is tracked down by Carlo’s musclemen and promised his life if he’ll agree to steal a valuable painting (The Black Brook) from London’s Tate Gallery. The deliciously stark denouement follows Paul’s successful plea that Mary (who’s an artist) copy the desired painting, thus duping Carlo and his surly band (who sport such wondrous monikers as Ashtray Bob, Line-Item Vito, and Hatpin Henry). This funky novel exhibits some of Thomas Berger’s genius for rendering sheer insanity in bland colloquial terms, and it bristles with off-the-wall conversational non sequiturs (“I consider you the lowest form of human garbage.—/—Well, you look good”). A deft cataloguing of outrageous behavior, presented in a deadpan style that will have readers humming with pleasure as they turn the pages. A trip and a treat. (Author tour)