The Unfortunates by Sophie McManusJuly 17th, 2015 | Posted by in My Reading Life
When our former student and acclaimed author Salvatore Scibona mails a book to our house with a simple typewritten note enclosed “A book I love for friends I love”, I set all other reading aside and dive in. Scibona wrote this blurb for the back of the book –
A big, chewy novel written with comic panache and an infectious tenderness toward the blunders of its heroes. The Unfortunates is both a mirror on the income inequality of the current moment and a social novel in the old, plotty mode: voracious for detail and punctuated by gasp-inducing turns of fate. Its subjects are money and the people unfortunate enough to have it. Who knew the rich deserved so much to be pitied? (Salvatore Scibona, author of The End)
Sophie McManus‘ debut novel lives up to the New York Observer’s pronouncement “This may be the literary beach read of 2015.” At the center of the story is CeCe Somner, an aging matriarch whose excessive wealth cannot save her declining health. Diagnosed with a rare disease, she qualifies for a pharmaceutical trail she can only participate in if she moves from Somner’s Rest into Oak Park, one of those god-forsaken “homes”. Her delusional son, George, is none too happy to be rid of her since it gives him more freedom to compose an opera that he believes will launch his fame. George neglects his job and his new-moneyed wife, Iris, until everything spins out of control. The potential darkness of the novel is lightened by McManus’ hilarious prose. I laughed out loud! In one passage George puts headphones on his mother so she can listen to his masterpiece for the first time, and when she removes them, she describes what she heard in a splendid Juvenalian tirade that is its own music. McManus is a talented word weaver. I empathized with no character and loved them all.
Perhaps the truest line in the book is buried in a beginning chapter where a minor character says, “We need books . . . because we are all, in the private kingdoms of our hearts, desperate for the company of a wise, true friend.” Sophie McManus has capably created such a necessary book.
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