The Bad Angel Brothers

Mariner: Houghton Harcourt Sept. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9780358716891. $28.99. F
A toxic sibling rivalry is at the center of this novel from celebrated novelist and travel writer Theroux (Under the Wave at Waimea), set in a small Massachusetts town. Cal is a geologist whose searches for precious gems have taken him around the world. Older brother Frank is an injury lawyer who has stayed in his hometown. While Frank presents himself to the town as an altruistic benefactor, Cal, who saved him from drowning as a teen, sees another side—a two-faced liar (indeed, owing to a childhood illness, the two sides of his face seemingly work independently of one another) who rarely does anything that doesn’t have an angle that benefits himself. Frank’s resentment of Cal grows through the years as he seemingly sets out to destroy him, alienating Cal’s wife and son, and, as his wife’s divorce lawyer, attempting to ruin him financially, leading Cal to plot a dire revenge.
VERDICT As with any sibling rivalry, there are two sides to the story, and much of the tension hangs on whose perception is correct. Is Frank truly a villain, or is Cal an unreliable narrator whose perceptions are skewed by his experiences with Frank? Or are both statements true at once? A fraught psychological drama rich with mythic overtones.
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