Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Family Man

Elinor Lipman (Then She Found Me) has written a nice little novel about a very extended family. The Family Man is Henry, a recently retired gay divorced lawyer (all those adjectives are relevant to the plot). On impulse, he sends a condolence note to his recently widowed, adulterous ex-wife. She not only contacts him, she tells him he is her only friend in the world. Her stepsons are trying to force her out of her apartment (this story takes place in New York City, so real estate is worth more than gold); her daughter - from a pre-Henry marriage - isn't speaking to her; and she has no employable skills. Henry doesn't want to let her back into his life, but he longs to connect with the stepdaughter he hasn't seen in 24 years. Henry resolves to keep his renewed relationship with aspiring actress Thalia a secret from her mother, especially since Thalia's latest acting gig is a real-life role as arm candy to a B-level actor.
Believe it or not, this is just the start of the plot. Things get more complicated from here, but Lipman does a good job of keeping the narrative threads from getting too tangled. Her characters (with the exception of the ex-wife) are all very likable and sympathetic, and she resists the urge to turn them into narrow stereotypes (with the exception of Henry's boyfriend). The dialogue is interesting, the story is essentially happy, and while this novel probably won't change your life or bring tears to your eyes, it's not a bad way to spend a sunny summer afternoon on the deck.

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