From Publishers Weekly
Neurotic siblings and embarrassing parents are familiar (even required) elements of the literature of suburban nostalgia and malaise. Wolitzer (Surrender
; The Wife
) doesn't tamper with these basic ingredients in her latest novel, but she gives them a titillating twist. Paul and Roz Mellow are enthusiastically in love—so much so that in 1975 they write a how-to sex book, Pleasuring
, that features illustrations of them in every imaginable position. The book becomes a runaway bestseller. When the children find the book and read it together, they're forever traumatized, in ways both serious and comedic. Flash forward 30 years: Paul and Roz are long divorced and remarried, and Paul, in particular, remains bitter; the grown children fumble through their lives on the eve of the publisher's reissue of the sex classic. The oldest, Holly, has settled into late motherhood after a lifetime of nomadic drug-taking; uptight Michael suffers from chronic depression; Dashiell, a gay Log Cabin Republican speechwriter, is diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease; and insecure late-bloomer Claudia returns to her Long Island hometown to finally figure out how to be a fully functioning adult. If the characters are rather stock, and the musings on love, sex and family familiar, Wolitzer nevertheless bestows her trademark warmth and light touch on this tale of social and domestic change.
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Wolitzer's novel of sexual politics and family farce continues in the dark comic vein that she mined in "The Wife." In the nineteenseventies, at the height of the sexual revolution, a married couple, aptly named Mellow, publish a liberated sex manual that features pictures of themselves and includes a sexual position—"Electric Forgiveness"—that they claim to have invented. The manual becomes an epochal best-seller. The publication, decades later, of a new edition of the notorious classic is a catalyst for a plot that examines the effects of this legacy on the adult children of the Mellows, who are now divorced. These effects are variously hilarious, disabling, painful, embarrassing, and, ultimately, empowering. Wolitzer's comic timing never wavers, and she has an astute grasp of the way one generation's liberation inspires the next generation's pity.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker