Booklist Reviews

Hugo Whittier is a 40-year-old misanthrope who lives alone at Waverly, his family estate. He smokes incessantly despite the fact that he's been diagnosed with Buerger's disease, which, if he continues to smoke, will kill him. Hugo's protracted suicide is disrupted when his older brother Dennis arrives to live with him. Dennis is fleeing his failed marriage to Marie and wrestling with his feelings for Marie's married best friend, Stephanie. When Hugo meets Stephanie, not only does he tell her Dennis isn't in love with her but he also sleeps with her. And then a letter arrives from Hugo's estranged wife, Sonia, announcing that she and their daughter (whom he believes is not actually his child) are coming to live at Waverly as well. What's a curmudgeon to do? Hugo reluctantly begins to plan a grand Christmas dinner for this unlikely assembly and also plans to take his own life to escape the pain of his disease. Unexpectedly charming in some places, absolutely dastardly in others, Hugo is an utterly unforgettable character. ((Reviewed December 15, 2003)) Copyright 2003 Booklist Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

A suave ego-/erotomaniac more than half in love with easeful death.Protagonist and narrator of Christensen's mordantly amusing third novel (following Jeremy Thrane, 2001) is Hugo Whittier, the 40-year-old black-sheep scion of a wealthy Upstate New York family, who records in several "notebooks" his retreat to the unkempt Whittier mansion Waverley (named for Sir Walter Scott's novel), after itinerant years as a "kept boy" in Europe and America, among other immoralities. Also a self-taught gourmet cook and incorrigible gourmand, Hugo persists in living well, despite suffering from Buerger's disease, a painful and incurable condition rendered lethal by cigarette smoking—another of the many pleasures he refuses to relinquish. Hugo's hermetic (and hermitic) paradise is gradually infested by snakes: first, his older brother Dennis, an underachieving sculptor discarded by his wife Marie (a forthright psychotherapist), then by his estranged wife Sonia and (so she claims) his ten-year-old daughter Bellatrix. Meanwhile, Hugo is worming his way into Marie's social graces; subtly romancing her teenaged au pair Louisa; considering the sexual potential of Marie's uptight younger sister "Vero"(nica); flirting meaningfully with cheerful slut-waitress Carla, and frolicking in motel rooms with ripe matron Stephanie Fox, in retreat from her hypochondriac pedophile husband and stalled in an intended affair with Dennis (remember him?). Furthermore, Hugo is being stalked by (supposedly retired) hit man Shlomo Levy, engaged to waste him by a former lover on whom Hugo had cheated with a Swedish exchange student. These delirious complications, and many others, are related in a rakish voice further accented by Hugo's delighted perusal of Montaigne's essays and the savory prose of "food writer" (and, he feels, kindred spirit) M.F.K. Fisher. Hugo's introverted love of his own cleverness can be wearying, but Christensen's inventive plot keeps the reader happily hooked.First-rate adult entertainment, as they say, and Christensen's most impressive yet.Agent: Ellen Levine/Trident Media Group Copyright Kirkus 2003 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews

Composed as a series of journal entries by epicure and would-be hermit Hugo Whittier, this novel recounts the intrusions of a variety of family members and their friends into his solitary life at his home on the Hudson. The fortyish, misanthropic Hugo, who is presumably dying of the rare and painful Buerger's disease because he refuses to quit smoking, sets about causing trouble in the hopes of ridding himself of these interlopers, even as he insinuates himself into their lives. He undertakes an affair with his sister-in-law's best friend, Stephanie, and contracts for the death of Stephanie's husband, who he believes is a child molester. He entertains dishonorable intentions toward his brother's teenaged nanny and attempts to drive Sonia, his estranged wife, and alleged daughter Bellatrix out of his house and back to New York. Everything culminates in a lavish Christmas dinner involving all the major characters, after which Hugo plans to end his life. Christensen (In the Drink) has produced a mordantly comic romp led by a protagonist who often seems like a cross between Ignatius Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces and a Nabokov antihero. Recommended for all public libraries.-Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Christensen's two previous novels (Jeremy Thrane; In the Drink) were delightfully believable, sympathetic contemporary narratives filled with wry humor and appealing protagonists. Here she ups the ante, with loftier literary aspirations and succeeds masterfully. As a young man, Hugo Whittier dreamed of being a published poet and essayist. Now 40, with a string of failures behind him, he sits self-exiled at Waverly, the family home on the Hudson River, dryly churning out autobiographical notebooks while smoking fast and furiously enough to ensure his rapid, inevitable demise (he is suffering from Buerger's disease, "almost certainly terminal in patients who keep smoking"). Christensen keeps the entire work moving briskly with delicious sardonic wit ("More and more, as I contemplate my death, it strikes me as vital in some way to hedge my bets. These fragments here... I leave in lieu of a life's work, a series of achievements") as well as infectious, detailed references to M.F.K. Fisher's food writing and essayist Michel de Montaigne, who is the novel's chief inspiration. Throughout, narcissistic, put-upon Hugo is pulled into the lives of others, mostly family members, who suddenly descend upon him and disrupt his otherwise placid, predictable existence: the wife he hasn't seen in 10 years who seeks reconciliation, the on-the-verge-of-divorce older brother, the violin-playing 10-year-old who may or may not be his daughter, his "Fag Uncle Tommy" and even a hit man originally hired to kill him during his wild young gigolo, drug-dealing days. All have gravitated to the family residence by the novel's end, providing him with substantial material for meditations on art, God, pedophilia, justifiable homicide and his obsession with sex, among other topics. It all works because Christensen has created in Hugo an altogether appealing, irascible antihero, along the lines of Grady Tripp in Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys or Doug Willis in David Gates's Preston Falls. This is an impressive tome, one that tickles the funny bone and feeds the mind. (Feb. 17) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.