Friday, September 14, 2007
"Lapham Rising" - Roger Rosenblatt
For those who enjoy sarcasm, and secretly (or not so secretly) deride the rich and (pseudo) intellectual, especially when the two combine - which, if one were to believe everything we read and hear, is very often indeed, "Lapham" may well be the perfect summer book. Although you could definitely use it this winter as an antidote against the cold.
Henry March is the fortunate proprietor of an old family house, that sits in that most prized piece of real-estate called "The Hamptons". Middle-aged, his children have left, and recently, so has his wife ("the last straw" of the relationship is told in an hilarious chapter, featuring a Hamptons dinner party).
March used to be a writer ages ago, but has since left that particular métier alone - he considers himself a mediocre talent and is adamant not to add anything to his body of work. In fact, March would be content if only the Hamptons were not the most socially active place in the planet, and therefore the worst for a self proclaimed hermit.
But our narrator could deal with that particular problem - what he cannot deal with is the babelic construction going on just opposite his island - a gigantic house of summer (complete with all-inclusive air-conditioning)for Lapham, the heir of a asparagus-tong fortune.
For the reader's benefit, Rosenblatt (who by his own admission, only dreamed up Hector, in the final stages of writing) provides March with a talking buddy - an evangelical west highland white terrier, fully convinced of the benefits of capitalism and a socialite setting.
We follow Henry in his quest to put an end to the "real statement" across the bay, and his hope that it will spark a continent wide guerilla movement against the aesthetical (and other) crimes of the wealthy. To say that it does not go according to plan would be an understatement.
Beneath all the laugh-out loud moments there is also quite a lot of serious stuff here, for those who might bother with that reading: Rosenblatt describes poignantly the working classes of the Hamptons (who, even though I had seen many film representations of the area, I never thought about, and imagined did not exist). Unlike the historical british "help", they don't even enjoy the priviledge of being needed, so expendable to the rich are their existences.
All the injustice Rosenblatt (or March) see, the way everybody wants to be like everyone else and yet "special", are catapulted back to their neighbours in healthy doses of irony and disdain. Some of my favourite lines:
"Several summers ago a homeless was spotted wandering the grounds of the Meadow Club in Southampton. The members did not know what to do with him, so they threw him a party."
About the "once-able writer" Vandersnook
"He had written two good novels long ago, but then he had become himself."
Hector - "But isn't a career important?"
March - "Not when it interferes with a life"