cover image Cleopatra and Frankenstein

Cleopatra and Frankenstein

Coco Mellors. Bloomsbury, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-1-63557-681-8

In this involving if strained debut, Mellors dissects the tumultuous relationship between two magnetic and damaged people. Frank, a successful ad executive with a worsening drinking problem, meets Cleo, an aspiring British painter 20 years his junior, on New Year’s Eve in Manhattan, and they begin an affair. Six months later, they’re married. Soon, resentment, carelessness, infidelity, and unresolved issues from their childhoods come between them (Frank’s mother was an emotionally distant alcoholic and Cleo’s died by suicide), but their intoxicating chemistry keeps them together. Mellors leavens this marital Sturm und Drang with a satirical portrait of present-day New York life. Some of it lands—one of Cleo’s friends dismisses a man for having “shoe trees in all his shoes, even the sneakers. Like a psychopath”—but too often it reads like caricature. Zoe, Frank’s younger half-sister, attends a “Climaxing to Consciousness” workshop; Santiago, a Peruvian chef, laments that he is “The fat friend. The sidekick. But I have feelings. I feel a lot.” A notable exception is Eleanor, a screenwriter who takes a freelance job at Frank’s firm and develops a flirtation with him. Her winning sections achieve the mix of wit, pathos, and romance the rest strives to attain. The tone and intrigue can feel a bit scattered, but an enticing aura glows at this work’s heart. (Feb.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly named the Santiago character.