The story appears on

Page B13

December 27, 2009

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » Art and Culture

Suburban conformity revealed

LAUREN Grodstein's second novel, "A Friend of the Family," is set primarily in the very recent past, but it reads like an exercise in nostalgia for the heady days before the global economic collapse, when a solidly middle-class internist like Pete Dizinoff, Grodstein's wisecracking narrator, didn't think twice about ordering not one but three US$115 bottles of wine at dinner or dashing off US$60,000 worth of checks to Hampshire College so his ne'er-do-well son, Alec, might earn him some bragging rights.

When the novel opens, Pete's life has come crashing down around him, for reasons that aren't clear. He's living alone above the family's garage, in Alec's painting studio (where Alec spent much of his time after he dropped out of Hampshire). Pete hasn't spoken to his best friend, Joe Stern, in a year. He's lost his longtime practice in Round Hill, a wealthy suburban town. A goon seems determined to cause him bodily harm. Even his elderly mother has grown tired of his company.

In two days, Pete explains, he'll find out if he's being tried for malpractice and if his long-suffering wife is going to divorce him. The story then unfolds, with suspense worthy of Hitchcock, in flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks, lending the novel a Russian-doll quality as Pete sorts through the events that led him to this pathetic place, alienated from those he loves, his hard-won idyll shattered.

Thirteen years earlier, it seems, his friend Joe's eldest child, Laura, gave birth to (and possibly killed) a baby in the bathroom at the public library, then fled Round Hill until Christmas 2006, when she came home transformed from a rebellious teenager into an elegant woman. "She was nobody I'd met before," Pete remarks, with her "thick reddish hair falling over her shoulders, white skin, green brown eyes," not to mention her "benign smile" and the "demure twinkle in her eyes."

Alec and Laura are soon inseparable, which no one finds troubling except Pete. "Why can't he just enroll in school, date someone his own age, get a god-damn degree, get a job, get a life?" he shouts at his wife. "Why is it that everyone else's kid goes to college and our kid is spending all his time with a baby murderer?" It's clear that Pete, who suffers from that doctorly affliction known as the God Complex, is dangerously attracted to Laura, even as he's sickened by thoughts of her alleged crime.

Ultimately, though, this is a novel about the status-driven suburban culture that turned Pete into a monster of conformity, a place where the air at parties is rife with "the vague but persistent smell of striving."


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend