I don’t often enjoy fiction written by male writers as much as I do women’s fiction (of the women’s fiction I enjoy, that is). I can appreciate it for its structure but I haven’t had the same sense of engagement, that sense of sharing a bed, or becoming so a part of the world inside the novel that it’s as familiar as yawning. A strange thing to admit, I suppose, but there often seems to be a veneer that I can’t get past. Not so with this novel.
This is a gorgeous book. Finn and Jack are brothers with a tragic past and both just finding their way. I read an interview with the author who described that moment when he grew older than his brother, who had passed away and there’s a moment in the novel when the idea that someone is out there who shares your genetic make-up is not only reassuring but amazing, beautiful, necessary, and the hunger to make the most of that time becomes a real drive. A lovely movement in a novel that was initially about Finn coming to beat the shit out of Jack for abandoning him with his aggressive uncle. And yet the ending feels optimistic as opposed to realistic, in the hymn-like rhythm of its final pages. Who can really have that awareness of the purity of such relationships and of that warmth of love without having been confronted with such loss. And that felt fine, that I didn’t quite believe in the loveliness of the ending, why shouldn’t a novel reach beyond the everyday and demonstrate how things could be and not as they are.
As rich as the male interior lives in the novel were, the women felt sometimes upsettingly 2D, but perhaps this is how they are meant to appear – touching on that elusiveness of understanding between the sexes and just people in general you could add. Sad though that the women seemed nothing more than either sensual and visual or sweet and visual. Dilly, Finn’s early girlfriend is highly-sexed but damaged, beyond redemption it seems and Finn’s second, if brief love, Amy, felt fetishized, as tenderly and sweetly described as she is. Constantly described as exotic, tiny – tiny – tiny – I lost track of how tiny Amy was. I’m surprised Finn kept track of her. She also seemed utterly compliant – she is Gillian Flynn’s ‘cool girl’. I don’t remember Amy speaking much at all. Then there’s Astrid, the anorexic in the art gallery and Susan, a drug addict, both of whom have some light and shade, but again we don’t get much of a glimpse into the interior.
But the men. This novel is about them. The narratives are purposefully focused on the poignancy and power of male relationships and loves as we move between the brothers Finn and Jack, Leo the art gallery owner and William, Leo’s sister’s husband. It reminded me of the male version of Mrs Dalloway, moving seamlessly through a city and its inhabitants, enriching us with footnotes and asterisks. I don’t know if it’s so much a love letter to New York City, as is billed on the cover, but it’s certainly a love letter between brothers and male friendships, and of finding parents and children outside of a typical version of family. There’s also some incredibly funny moments where we see reversals of Finn (chaotic, difficult to control his impulses) and Jack (ordered, contained, somehow not as free). These are characters I’ll be thinking about for a good while.
An absolute must-read.