Ever in search of greener pastures, idealistic but frustrated engineer Howard Lament drags his long-suffering wife, Julia, and their three sons from South Africa to Rhodesia, Bahrain, England and America. The family's rootlessness weighs most heavily on eldest son Will, secretly adopted after a maternity ward mixup goes horribly awry, who feels the odd man out in the face of his constantly changing surroundings and the preternatural solidarity of his twin brothers. Hagen, a screenwriter and first-time novelist, makes the story a coming-of-age saga and familial drama, often comic in tone but also full of tragedy: car crashes, a kidnapping, death and dismemberment. As the Laments give up their privileged status under apartheid and eventually settle for downward mobility in the crass American suburbs, Hagan makes their wanderings and expatriate identity crises a commentary on the vexed legacy of British colonialism. The narrative sometimes slows to allow the Laments to hash out their liberal politics, and some sketchily drawn characters (Lament's son Julius is memorable largely for his un-self-conscious masturbatory rituals) die when their plot assignments are completed. Hagen pokes fun at Albion's seed with comic clichés—the Rhodesians are racist Colonel Blimps, the English are soccer thugs, the Americans are conformists, religious zealots or strident New Leftists. The Laments themselves, saddled with the melancholy of postimperial decline, are a spirited but slightly sad lot who wish for better lives. This is a funny, touching novel about the meaning of family, with an oddly high body count. Agent, Henry Dunow . (June 22)
Forecast: A 10-city author tour and overseas enthusiasm (rights have been sold in 10 countries) should earn this unusual and enjoyable novel a modest following.
Release date: 06/01/2004