An arrogant lawyer’s life gets a shellacking in this bruising first novel about marriage, the law, and, most of all, New York City.
For reasons not made entirely clear to the reader, William Riordan seems to be on a fast upward trajectory at his Manhattan law firm. Married with two kids, Riordan’s a walking font of cynical observations that he tosses out into the world, just begging for a fight. While this doesn’t seem to bother the senior partners at the firm—except for the occasional admonishment about his “attitude”—Riordan’s wife, Ellie, obviously is bothered. When the story opens, the couple is in the process of really going at each other’s throats, their cramped-feeling apartment quickly filling up with kiddie-noise, postpartum neuroses, and barely veiled sarcasm. While his family implodes, Riordan broods about his life—a passage about his rage-filled alcoholic father and an entire generation of postwar dads is nothing short of brilliant—and about the city around him. Occasionally, work intrudes on his reveries and he’s forced to take part in cases—a rich client’s apparent murder of his wife, for one, the robbery and rape of a young woman, for another. It’s the latter case that essayist-storywriter Passaro uses to provide some spine for the novel, as the rape victim is also an avant-garde writer who starts channeling all her thoughts into stream-of-consciousness stories that steadily arrive in Riordan’s email. Still, Passaro seems to know he’s got a good thing in Riordan’s mordant musings, and, for the most part, he sticks to letting his man talk the narration into being in lieu of fabricating a strong storyline.
Things begin to sag near the end, as Passaro gets too involved in the actual cases—this is a legal story with legal aspects that aren’t terribly interesting—but the whole remains powerful, filled with heartbreak and surprising flashes of poetry.