My Four Women and Elvis
debut novel centers on Bill, a 49-year-old British man, and the women in his
start, Bill shows himself to be completely devoted to the women of his family.
He endures his mom’s questions when she must confirm his identity before
opening the door for him; he reminisces about his dead sister; and he
contemplates his love for his wife, Sandra, and his daughter, Laura. He speaks
of his impending status as a middle-aged man, saying that he feels caught
between the needs of his children and his mother—“[b]oth demand attention, and
you’re ham-sandwiched in the middle. And personally, I feel like squashed ham
between two slices of Mighty Bran.” The majority of the book dwells on these
ruminations. “I realise I’ve finally reached that golden age when
eighty-year-old women find me irresistible,” he says. “It’s a twilight age.”
His thoughts on retirement, taking care of his quirky mother and his daughter’s
first experiences with love are driving forces of the narrative as he guides
readers through his largely pleasant existence and enjoyable family dynamics.
With wife, daughter and cat, there are plenty of crass but sweet interactions;
it’s a functioning, funny family, and it’s refreshing to spend time with them.
Bartlett’s prose is clear, and Bill’s light, witty voice as narrator is
enjoyable throughout, particularly in his lists of things he wished he had
accomplished or the nine commandments he’s discovered so far. Both Bill and
the author are first and foremost jokesters: The prologue, for instance, may
leave readers expecting an appearance by the actual king of rock ’n’ roll, as
referenced in the title, though they’ll have a good chuckle when Elvis’ true
identity is revealed. But as Bill approaches his 50th birthday, Bartlett also
follows him into darker, more troubling realities. There are painful memories
of his sister, Kate, his father’s passing and an accident, as well as a
surprising announcement from his wife that brings these issues into sharper
focus. Fortunately, through it all, Bill remains a delight to be around.
slice-of-life novel that turns the days of an ordinary man into endearing,
funny episodes and observations.