Handler follows up his waggish debut (The Basic Eight, 1999)
with an even more pungent fricassee: a summer's romance turned
incestuous and murderous, cast in the form of an opera followed,
naturally, by a 12-step recovery program. Not that Joseph Last Name
Changed to Protect the Innocent, as he refers to himself, has
anything that outr in mind. What he expects when he signs on as
assistant arts and crafts counselor to his girlfriend Cynthia Glass
is a placid summer finishing up his junior-year incompletes in the
time off from commuting between suburban Pittsburgh's Camp Shalom
by day and Cynthia's enthusiastic bed by night. Oh, he's willing to
vary the routine via the woods around Camp Shalom, the back of
Cyn's car, and the occasional vertical bonk. What he's not willing
to countenance is an incestuous streak that guarantees you'll never
confuse this Glass family with J.D. Salinger's. Dad and Mom ("call
me Mimi") lust respectively after their daughter and son, and young
Ben pines for his big sis. The Glasses don't just pine either, as
Joseph acknowledges every night when Cyn leaves his damp bed for
her father's. Fortunately for Cyn's grandmother, the old lady dies
before confessing any desire she might have to repossess her own
flesh. The rest of the Glasses follow more violently, falling
victim one by one to somebody the cops in Pittsburgh, California
(don't ask), think is Joseph and Joseph thinks is the golem Mimi
was building in her basement. No jest is too broad (Mimi's
physician is named Dr. Zhivago), no simile too indecorous for
Joseph's desperately coy unfolding of his summer of discontent and
its sequel, as self-satisfied allusions from Kafka to Nabokov to
Bill W. jostle for recognition. Beneath all the busy trimmings,
though, it's just another reworking of your basic self-reflexive
parody incest opera mystery. About average for the genre. (Kirkus
When Joseph goes to stay with his girlfriend's family for summer,
he is at first touched by their closeness and affection for one
another. But as the atmosphere in the family home grows hotter and
stickier, the warning signs become hard to ignore. This family love
each other just a little too much.
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