At 40, living alone in the family home, Hugo Whittier, an irresistible, irrepressible, uproariously droll curmudgeon, wants nothing more than to die --- except maybe to be left alone. As he sits in his room, he muses, he philosophizes and he complains constantly. Very little pleases him and he can barely tolerate interaction with others of his species.
Hugo does, however, love smoking and cooking --- and writing, although he would vehemently deny it. He tosses out a recipe here and there, but I'm not at all sure I would dare use any of them. In the first instance, for example, he left out one ingredient. (It showed up a chapter or two later.)
THE EPICURE'S LAMENT is set down in hilarious, and sometimes poignant, journal entries. Hugo writes volumes, filling three notebooks in the telling of his story and starting a fourth. In the pages, he rails against his dead mother with hostile invectives, remembers his dad lovingly and begrudgingly learns some good about humankind.
Hugo did not have a happy childhood, and his adult years aren't shaping up much better. Now, Hugo's life is coming to an end due to a rare affliction called Buerger's disease --- unless he makes some drastic changes in his lifestyle. Not surprisingly, he is unwilling to alter even one thing about his life. Quite the contrary; he looks forward to his imminent end. Residing in the home where he grew up, he has happily ensconced himself in the tower bedroom awaiting that end.
Unfortunately for him, his brother's marriage hits the skids and Dennis, a couple of years Hugo's senior, pulls up one day with a U-Haul and unloads his few salvaged possessions. As one would suspect, this doesn't sit well with Hugo, so he focuses on patching up Dennis's marriage --- in between trying to seduce the cashier at the corner store or his sister-in-law's au pair. To make matters even worse, Hugo's wife, who left him ten years earlier, returns with "their" (he denies that, too) child in tow and moves in alongside the two brothers. This only heightens Hugo's desire to hasten his impending death.
What seems like a predictable story most certainly is not. Several excellent surprises, all discovered through Hugo's caustically witty diaries, await the lucky reader. Ms. Christensen does an incredible job of writing from a man's perspective, especially that of a hermitic, solitude-loving, middle-aged man who is pretty much obsessed with sex and cigarettes. The outrageous voice she has given Hugo resonates with irritation yet exudes a sense of unappreciated intelligence. Petulance radiates from his every conversation. The man has an undeniable gift with words; he simply chooses to use mostly the gloomy and cynical ones. Hugo is destined to become a classic character. He is not one to be missed.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 21, 2011
The Epicure's Lament