by Elinor Lipman
I’ve been a huge fan of Elinor Lipman for years. There are lots of reasons why I love her books: the delectably screwballish nature of the plots, and the realistic yet infinitely wittier–than–anything–I–ever–encounter–in–real–life dialogue, for two. For me, though, what most sets Elinor Lipman apart is the way she just adores her characters. She has such abounding affection for the people she’s invented; she seems to regard even the most unpleasant ones with sympathy. It’s only natural for readers to adopt an author’s attitude toward her characters and, in Lipman’s case, take the same delight in reading about them that she obviously took in creating them. Her new novel, The Family Man, is a madcap romp with a heart of gold. Retired lawyer Henry Archer’s biggest regret in life is that when his wife left him 25 years before, he allowed her new husband to adopt Thalia, Denise’s 4–year–old daughter, whom Henry had adopted when he and Denise married. So when he’s reunited with his ex–stepdaughter, now an actress (whom he never knew works at the salon where he gets his hair cut), he couldn’t be happier. Complications of the wackiest sort, of course, ensue. The recently widowed Denise insists that Henry help her fight a lawsuit when her step–children try to overturn their father’s will; and, more importantly for Henry, Denise introduces him to a man she’s recently met while shopping. Todd, a tabletop specialist at the Gracious Home store, still lives with his mother and has never actually told her he was gay. Thalia gets a job pretending to be the girlfriend of a Hollywood actor of dubious character, and so on. You can see, I’m sure, how deliciously complicated the plot all is — it would be easy to lose track of it all. But under Lipman’s skilled touch, these disparate plot elements come together in a totally satisfying way. If you enjoy The Family Man, don’t miss my other favorite novels: The Way Men Act, The Inn at Lake Devine, and My Latest Grievance.