To Do the Deal, A Novel in Stories Kindle Edition
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|Length: 228 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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To Do the Deal is the story – actually ten stories – of Kenneth Bodine, a man in search of himself. It starts in 1991, when Ken breaks up with his girlfriend, known only as Watermelon, and meets Jodine, who is about to break up with her boyfriend. After the two successfully break off their unfortunate hookups and end up with each other, what follows is a series of ten stand-alone short stories that take us to the year 2000 – as Ken moves from job to job, eventually ending up in sales, where he shines, despite his absolute lack of people skills.
Each story is a self-contained episode in Ken’s increasingly chaotic life, but each also segues seamlessly into the next. Baker has created the perfect born loser in Ken, the model put upon housewife/mother in Jodi, and a cast of supporting characters that, if you’ve ever experienced the suburbs of Washington, DC, you’ll swear you’ve lived next door to them. The humor in To Do the Deal is understated, tongue-in-cheek, that sneaks up on you, gently grabs your funny bone, and before you know it, has you clutching your sides and blinking back tears. At times you feel sorry for Ken, and at others, you want to give him a solid kick in the rear – all the while, you’re chuckling at the predicaments he manages to get himself into.
There are no surprises in this book, but it is not predictable. It ends in the best possible way, given the state of mind of the main character and the effect he has on everyone with whom he comes into contact. Despite the lack of surprise, it is satisfying because you find yourself saying, ‘but for the grace of God, that’s where I’d be.’ Baker’s use of domestic banter between Ken and Jodi (which, given the last name she acquired at marriage, is what Jodine prefers to be called) is so realistic, you feel like a voyeur reading it. She does a particularly good job in describing the relationship Ken and Jodi have with their children – just ask anyone who has had to raise kids in today’s economy. Between episodes of humor, the author also describes human relationships in a way that is so spot on, you wonder if she wasn’t a psychologist in another life.
If you want a good weekend read, this is a definite ‘must-read.’ Five stars for one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Posted on behalf of an Awesome Indies reviewer who reviewed this book free of charge in return for an honest review.
However, reading them all together they strike you as simply a precisely structured novel following the progress of a young, ambitious but not especially gifted salesman, Kenneth Bodine. Bodine serves as a kind of Everyman figure for small-town American white-collar workers, unremarkable in many ways but with integrity, decency, and an instinct to provide for his wife and children, though a lurking sense of Thoreau-style quiet desperation never far away. We see Bodine steer his way through job opportunities and disappointments, and disruptions from colleagues, employers, family members, friends and neighbours. Throughout he remains broadly optimistic and virtuous, despite numerous temptations and distractions.
The polished narrative is subtle, gentle, unsentimental and understated. It’s easy to relate to the characters and their dilemmas. The story is enriched by implied back-stories hinted at by small details dropped in along the way, e.g. Bodine’s daughters’ obsession with dolls’ house bathroom furniture, wittily echoing their parents’ home improvement plans that threaten to undermine their precarious financial position. I particularly liked the “puzzle soup” incident, in which the little girls liven up a dull playdate at a neighbouring child’s house by mixing up the pieces from all her jigsaw puzzles, to the chagrin of their mother.
There is also effective characterisation for the minor players such as Bodine’s estranged parents, his series of dodgy bosses, and colleagues with lesser ethics than his own. The odd item of dress or make-up can speak volumes about a character. There’s just enough description and believable dialogue to create a real and believable atmosphere, but there’s also a sense of distance between the action and the reader, as if inviting the reader to judge, and an undercurrent of affectionate playfulness.
Baker’s wry yet courteous way with words, reminiscent of Garrison Keillor, often made me smile, e.g. “Kenneth had gained from his youth a certain familiarity with the penal code”; “It was work that anyone who was not stoned could do”, and, describing one of his employers, “He had the girth of a man who is done with stairs”.
The novel ends in 2000, with the Bodine family narrowly averting both a personal finance crisis and also a marital one. Despite knowing from the outset that the book would end in the tenth story and year, the conclusion still felt a little abrupt to me – or maybe it was just that I was reluctant to part company from this unassuming and likeable family who represent so many millions of people across the USA. (The book reminded me of David Byrne’s masterful movie about small-town America, True Stories, which I very much admire.) There was also an element of mischief about ending the book at this historic moment, as we moved into the current millennium with the dubious joys that it was to bring, not least the economic downturn that will have felled so many Bodines at the knees.
This book would be enjoyed by anyone who has a fondness for small-town America, or who has ever been through a similar career path to Bodine, or who has shared his same ideals and found the going tough. It’s also great entertainment for those who like subtle writing of understated cleverness. I, for one, was left yearning for an update on Bodine’s next decade.
I received this book free of charge from the author in return for an honest review.