Loads of Learned Lumber

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Emily Perkins, _Novel About My WIfe_

About a year ago (July 21, I find upon checking), I was reading Tom McCarthy's Remainder, on the strength of its being Believer magazine's novel of the year for 2007, and I'd say now it was the strongest novel I read in 2008. I read Novel About My Wife on the strength of its being Believer magazine's novel of the year, and...enhh.

Not that it's a bad performance by any means. It has some of the same psychological interest Remainder did, although it's by a wide margin a less audacious book. The narrator, Tom Stone, is a struggling screenwriter, early 40s, living in London, and the book is his memoir of his wife, Ann, lately deceased. So, how, we wonder, did Ann die? Of complications of her pregnancy? Of an accident, like the Tube train derailment she survives in the early pages? Does the stalker whom Tom strongly suspects is imaginary turn out to be real, and does he murder her?

Well, all those factors come into play, but it turns out to be something else -- a combination of post-partum emotional chaos, the imaginary stalker's turning out to be a kind of fabulated "screen memory" for a real figure who played a traumatic role in Ann's past, and Tom's own impercipience, which goes deep enough to amount to a betrayal.

Tom, I'd say, is so little amiable as to seem to have wandered in from a Martin Amis novel. He is witty, he loves Ann as well as he is able, but he's a bit of a pill. A lot of his character development has to do with his realization (fairly common among those rounding 40) that by hanging on to the ideals and notions of integrity he adopted as a young man he has condemned himself to life of insecurity and want. He would like to sell out -- but those who decide to sell out quickly find, as Tom does, that they are in a buyer's market. Can't make the mortgage, kid on the way, Ann's mental health precarious... what to do?

His solution to this problem makes sense, but also leads to Ann's death.

A tale for our times... and Balzac's. It all seems a bit pat, though. The prose was strong, the narrative crafty, but I didn't find this one altogether satisfying.

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