Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cleaning Nabokov's House by Leslie Daniels

Opening a whorehouse builds confidence

This is a comic novel about Barb Barrett, a beaten down woman who has a mild nervous breakdown when her husband scolds her one too many times about how to load the dishwasher. Somewhat implausibly, she loses everything, including custody of her beloved children. “Somewhat implausibly” could be the watchword of the entire book, even though I enjoyed this novel greatly, held together as it was by Barb’s appealing first person narration. The book is genuinely funny and consistently engaging.

It’s about a woman finding herself, regaining her dignity and losing her passivity. The biggest problem, however, is the whimsical bifurcated plot. The story starts moving from its piteous though funny beginning once Barb rents Nabokov’s house, and reaches into a drawer to find -- a novel handwritten on index cards. And our mystery begins. Or does it? Publishing a lost Nabokov novel seems to be what the story is about, but rather quickly that doesn’t pan out so Barb effortlessly switches (though maybe not the reader) to the whorehouse with male whores idea.  Women flock to the house, somewhat implausibly,in this conservative upstate town.

Barb’s adventures are definitely quirky, though the love interest, the ex-husband and even the kids are a little too unsurprising. The minor characters, however, are completely original. Also, the idea that perhaps a whorehouse is not like a nail salon, and may have seriously corrosive effects on the marriages of its patrons, is completely glided over.

I really enjoyed it.

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