A hilarious farce, in which a coastal New England hotel, the reader’s expectations, and possibly The Novel itself, are turned inside out by an outrageous cast of characters, a mutinous Author, and the onset of a disastrous storm.
Former Spy magazine scribe Monahan's satirical first novel is broad, freewheeling and scattershot. It's also very postmodern in a sometimes annoyingly hip, glib, Gen-X fashion; it's the quintessential antibildungsroman, detailing the nondevelopment of its 22-year-old protagonist, Tim Picasso. (Most characters here have similarly amusing--if unsubtle--monikers.) The book opens with a stale jab at political correctness and affirmative action: a brilliant painter, Tim is told by nitwit art professors that he's not "dispossessed enough" to get an art fellowship, so he turns to crime, stealing more than a million dollars from a sociopathic Cuban drug lord named Jesus Castro. Tim tries to lie low at the Admiral Benbow, a decrepit New England seaside hotel populated by a strange assortment of characters. Among them are pretentious innkeeper George Hawthorne and his stupid, horny wife, Magdalene; haughty but loopy writing-workshop-maven Professor Eggman; violently vindictive New York literary darling Glowery; redneck stereotype Edward Briscoe; and, of course, the murderous Jesus Castro himself, who has checked in under the unlikely nom de guerre of Wassermann. Soon, almost every type of hanky-panky conceivable is going on under the Admiral Benbow's shaky gables. Tim and Magdalene start up a silly affair, Jesus Castro engages in all-night s&m sessions with a dominatrix, and Castro's oily associate Cervantes is cornered and raped by the demented Briscoe. Between all these over-the-top shenanigans, Monahan has time for several pseudo-intellectual riffs (some funny, many simply facile) on everything from Joycean epiphany to Freudian analysis: "He wasn't actually commenting on the discontents of civilization. He was marketing new forms of discontent to the civilized!" Most of Monahan's observations are similarly arch and precious. Unfocused and sometimes smug, this novel may be enjoyed by those who like their satire lite.