The third from the English author Parsons (Man and Wife, 2003, etc.) is a maudlin tale of loss.
The high point in Alfie Budd’s life came in 1996 in Hong Kong. The 32-year-old expat British teacher was enjoying his polite students after five rough years in a London high school, and he was savoring life in a special place (the Brits turned over Hong Kong to the Chinese in June 1997). Most important, he had met Rose, the love of his life, a young and exceedingly smart corporate lawyer, also from England. His first glimpse of Rose and her “bucktoothed grin” came on the ferry. (Cling to that image, for there won’t be many others.) Though no beauty, Rose is adorable. The two soon marry and then, just as soon, Rose is gone, dead in a scuba diving accident. Alfie goes into a long funk, and two years later, in London, he’s still inconsolable, unemployed, and living with his parents—until his father destroys his own happy marriage by decamping with the very pretty Czech au pair. Doesn’t his father understand that “you get one shot at happiness”? Now Alfie has lost domestic stability as well as losing Rose; the only thing left is his beloved grandmother Nan. But Alfie finds some stirrings of life when he starts teaching again, foreigners from all over. Rose had married him because he was nice, but now he turns quite naughty, bedding four of his students in quick succession; his fifth target, a feisty English cleaning lady, holds him off. Maybe Alfie has more in common with his horny old dad than he thought. A more promising diversion is learning tai chi. Alfie’s instructor, restaurant owner George Chang, heads a happy three-generation family that Alfie can only envy. And then it’s time for yet another loss as Nan bravely, graciously, succumbs to cancer.
Alfie wears his heart on his sleeve as he narrates this generous serving of mush.