four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
41-July-Aug-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-The Family ManElinor Lipman has written nine previous novels, including The Inn at Lake Devine, The Pursuit of Alice Thrift ( 4 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2003), and, most recently, My Latest Grievance ( 3.5 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2006).

The Story: Henry Archer, a retired, lonely, and gay attorney, is back in touch with his ex-wife Denise when problems arise with her third husband. That also means that Henry’s adored stepdaughter Thalia—Denise’s daughter from the other of her marriages—is back in his life. When he and Thalia, now 29, happily reconnect, the aspiring actress moves into his Upper West Side townhouse, and she and her mother decide to improve her stepfather’s life. Denise soon introduces him to Todd, a closeted homosexual; they fall in love. Add in a struggling horror film star, two thuggish stepsons, an elderly Jewish mother, and possible eviction, and family drama of the best kind ensues.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 305 pages. $25. ISBN: 0618644660

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] sparkling, sprightly comedy. … As always, the pleasure of a Lipman book is not so much the wispy plot but the original, funny, achingly human characters." Tina Jordan

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"No need to divulge the details—that would spoil the romp. Suffice it to say that Lipman has created engaging characters and, at a time when the country is debating same-sex marriage, gives us in Henry a gay father so loving, nurturing and kind that any child would be fortunate to have him." Carole Goldberg

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"As always, [Lipman] uses a group of decent people on the ragged edge of forlorn at the beginning of her story, but all of them are hopeful about what life will see fit to give them. … Lipman mesmerized me. She hypnotized me." Carolyn See

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It’s the pleasant, efficient pace of a book like this that says we’re in an organized, knowable world governed by its writer’s characteristic warmth. Since it’s the affection of her characters for one another that is allowed to be the Great Determiner, who cares if this doesn’t exactly resemble what might be called reality?" Jane Vandenburgh

Critical Summary

Most of Elinor Lipman’s novels hinge on complicated wisps of plots, but their comedic lightness rarely detracts from their enjoyment. Reviewers agree that perhaps the best elements in a new Lipman novel are the characters—heartfelt, civilized, completely engaging, and never less than fully human. The Family Man, set in Manhattan rather than Lipman’s usual haunting grounds of New England, doesn’t disappoint in its portrayal of complex family relationships and use of exquisite language. Only the Boston Globe suggested that readers unwilling to suspend disbelief may find the book too fairy tale for their tastes. The Washington Post, however, summed up general sentiment: "Just because something is ‘light’ doesn’t mean it’s not masterful."

Also by the Author

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift (2003): A wallflower blooms and must learn to get rid of her current vulgar, awful beau.