cover image The Old Romantic

The Old Romantic

Louise Dean, Riverhead, $25.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-59448-779-8

Dean's very British fourth novel (after The Idea of Love) is a grimly hilarious family saga in which an old curmudgeon faces his mortality. Ken Goodyew, a working-class bloke who believes he is at the end of his life, sets out to settle his affairs. Spewing vitriol in every direction, he calls upon his social-climbing son, Gary—now known as Nick, a dapper country gentleman—and Nick's hapless little brother, Dave, first to help him spurn his second wife, the unnervingly thrifty June, and then to find the boys' mother, Pearl. Ken also spends a good chunk of time shadowing undertaker Audrey as she fetches, dresses, and embalms bodies, in order to come to some conclusion about the right way to die. But after June's out of the picture and Pearl is found—hospitalized—Ken's desire to make sense of things profoundly affects his sons, leading to a denouement that perfectly balances humor and poignancy. Dean, with her superb ear for language and class nuance, gives readers the essence of contemporary British life in this touching and funny family portrait. (Feb.)