Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe

Atria. Mar. 2019. 288p. ISBN 9781501199615. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501199639. F
DEBUT Frank Widdicombe appears to be depressed. His wife, Carol, has made every effort to turn their elegant summer home into a showplace and enticing refuge. She thinks maybe raising a flock of chickens and growing some heirloom vegetables will help Frank cheer up. To that end, she hires a gardener. He and Frank hit it off and become friends. Carol also invites self-help guru Gracie to visit while working on her newest book in the hopes she will influence Frank for the better. Gracie and the gardener meet and soon become more than friends. Widdicombe son Christopher is home from art school for the summer and spends his days scheming to get away from his family, but everything he tries draws him closer to them. The family's secretary/administrative assistant Michelle keeps the household organized, but her attempt to connect with yet another house guest ends in heartbreak. The chickens never materialize, but there is a family of otters living under the deck.
VERDICT First novelist James boasts numerous literary honors, here delivering an absurd and hilarious satire full of unlikely characters who are all wildly introspective, dysfunctional, and prone to New Age philosophizing. [See Prepub Alert, 9/24/18.]

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