Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Washington Post review of LAPHAM RISING

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/09/AR2006030901859.html

His debut novel, Lapham Rising , is about a brilliant curmudgeon driven to madness by his abhorrence of modern-day excess. The book has nothing to do with Lewis Lapham, the brilliant curmudgeon who rises each month to express his abhorrence of modern-day excess in the pages of Harper's magazine. Coincidentally, the title alludes to a novel written by a much earlier editor of Harper's named William Dean Howells. In addition to reigning over American criticism for a couple of decades at the end of the 19th century, Howells wrote a lot of very fine, boring novels that nobody -- except, apparently, Roger Rosenblatt -- reads anymore. His best, The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885), is about a socially ambitious paint manufacturer who builds a spectacular mansion in Boston that eventually burns down, leading to his financial ruin -- and his moral redemption.

Rosenblatt's novel plays with this story very loosely and sports a kind of goofiness and despair that would have rattled Howells's tea cup. The narrator is Harry March, an aging, divorced, long-blocked novelist who lives in ferocious isolation on a tiny sandbar in Quogue, N.Y., in the Hamptons, "because," he says, "I have trouble making connections." That's putting it mildly. He usually communicates with the outside world by megaphone or by passing notes on a remote-controlled toy boat. His only companion -- besides a life-sized statue of his ex-wife at the kitchen table -- is Hector, his talking dog, who's a born-again Christian. So witty and gentle are Hector's admonitions that it's impossible to tell if this absurdity is meant to be taken literally or if Harry is merely projecting his saner thoughts onto his dog.

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