THE REDEMPTION OF GEORGE BAXTER HENRY by Conor Bowman
“Dad, do you think dogs go to heaven?”
“You mean what will happen to Grandma when she dies?”
Review by Betsey Van Horn Oct 16, 2011)
George Baxter Henry is no paragon of virtue. In fact, he is a paradigm of vice, with a penchant for lustful young women. His marriage is on the rocks and his fractured family is falling apart. Connor Bowmanâ€™s novella after The Last Estate takes us back to the South of Franceâ€”this time Nice, but with an American protagonist. In this sinfully laugh-out-loud story about a wounded family trying to stitch itself back together, Bowman manages to make the reader care about these cross and querulous individuals who are headed on a grease skid to oblivion.
George is a fifty-one-year-old trial-phobic attorney in Boston. His vitriolic ninety-one-year-old mother-in-law, Muriel, hired a snoop, who captured George in a Kodak moment in flagrante delicto, and now Muriel is trying to convince Georgeâ€™s wife, Pearl, to divorce him. Seventeen-year-old rock musician, Billy, needs dadâ€™s consent to a big record deal offer from Carnivore records, but George wonâ€™t do it until Billyâ€™s urine is clean for a month; he snorts cocaine like kids eat Cheerios. Fourteen-year-old daughter, Iska, is researching apples for a book she wants to write, and is on the brink of new discoveries.
George sequesters the family away to a rented chateau in bucolic Nice, hoping to save his marriage, his son, and his finances from ruin. Pearl is open to reconciliation, but Muriel, his nemesis, is determined to interfere. A former screen star of the twenties and thirties, Muriel Hale nĂ©e Meek is an italicized battle-axe who George derides as â€śabout as meek as a Panzer division.â€ť She never lets anyone forget her averred fame and one-time Oscar nom, flashing celebrity names like rhinestones on an Elvis cape.
George executes his own private rehab for Billy â€” he locks him in his room, while trying to repair the fault lines in his marriage, which has had a five-year sexual drought. Every step of repair between Pearl and George is a lure for sabotage by Muriel:
â€śIf youâ€™d listened to me all those years ago, youâ€™d have married somebody suitable instead of scraping the barrel for an engagement ring and a time-share in Georgeâ€™s pecker.â€ť
George starts playing boules with some locals he encounters during daily solitary walks, and also meets an Elvis-obsessed French pastry chef with a hot oven, big cupcakes, and porn-star moves. Salvation is laced with cream pie.
Georgeâ€™s perspective on life volleys between mockery and scorn, with a generous dose of self-effacement to lend a measure of vulnerability to his cynicism.
â€śChildren are the single greatest drain on the worldâ€™s finances after global warming and oil slick clean-up costsâ€¦ As far as theyâ€™re [children] concerned, itâ€™s win, win, win. They didnâ€™t ask to be born, so you pay for that. You want the best for them, so you pay for that, and best of all, they hate you and you want them to love you, so you pay for that, too. Stick a dunce hat on me and call me Chase Manhattan!â€ť
The avaricious tension between Muriel and George keeps the zingers fresh and lively:
â€śTo get a clear picture of my precious mother-in-law in your head, think Godzilla meets Margaret Thatcher and they have a child.â€ť
As the narrative glides like a combat missile, the reader is installed in Georgeâ€™s personal battle of a lifetime â€” a self-propelled mission to redeem himself and his family. Thereâ€™s a bit of a dues ex machina, but it comes with a wink and a wallop that will have you cheering for his redemption.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 1 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Permanent Press (August 1, 2011)|
|REVIEWER:||Betsey Van Horn|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||Not Yet|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Conor Bowman|
|EXTRAS:||Publisher page on The Redemption of George Baxter|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:|
- Life and Death and in Between: Stories (2004)
- Wasting By Degress (1998)
- The Last Estate (2008; August 2010 in US)
- The Redemption of George Baxter Henry (2008; August 2011 in US)