Why on earth does Phoebe move back to her parents' New Jersey home? For a whole list of reasons. They include being sick of her existence in Manhattan, disgusted by yet another failed relationship, and filled with despair at watching all her single friends become halves of couples. She also wants to spend time with her mother, who has been diagnosed with what she calls "the c-word."
Phoebe's father is an oboist, which leads to Phoebe meeting and eventually dating the orchestra's new young conductor, Roget Mankuvsky. He's not polite, good-looking or generous, and their first date and ensuing encounters are disasters. And yet Roget holds an unexplainable attraction for Phoebe. Their on-again, off-again relationship is complicated by the maneuvering of Phoebe's curvaceous, self-centered and needy sister, Emily.
Phoebe and her parents decide they'll make a fortune by scavenging the neighbors' trash (actually household rejects left out for the garbage collectors) and selling the "treasures" on eBay. Phoebe's decided the acquisition of wealth is ultimately important to her happiness, so she won't have to live her parents' threadbare just-getting-by existence. She actually makes money on her first refurbished find, piquing Emily's interest. During a trash-picking adventure, Emily and Phoebe rediscover their bond, usually hidden behind competitive animosity.
While waiting for eBay money to pour in, Phoebe eats her mother's odd meals (chicken boiled in cheap wine with a few canned mushrooms is dubbed "coq au vin"), squabbles with her sister, and hates/loves Roget. One subplot (complete with an "Oh, no! This can't be happening!" moment) follows the possibility that Phoebe's mother's old well-used viola is actually a rare treasure, worth millions. The question puts Phoebe in a quandary: If she pursues appraising it, is it for her own benefit? Or is she selflessly trying to help her parents? Could Roget actually be manipulating Phoebe, acting interested in her only to get his hands on the viola?
Phoebe's mother, Roberta, lives rather jauntily with her cancer, although the disease has aged her appearance and she sports a terrible red wig. She jokes about "the torture chamber" where she has her treatments. Roberta's illness is treated in an offhand manner, nearly the opposite of melodrama. Yet Phoebe is forced to face her parent's mortality.
Phoebe is a selfish character living an aimless life, and I sometimes found her insecurities exhausting. But in the hands of this author, I believed she was a real person and I loved her in spite of her eccentricities. And, yes, the plot's pace sometimes bogs down with detailed descriptions. Yet those descriptions, of whimsical characters and offbeat situations, are irresistibly funny and worthwhile. Outlandish as they are, characters and situations feel utterly true.
I happily put my own life on hold to read about Phoebe's. Now I must find and devour the prequel, WHAT SHE SAW, and then wait ---impatiently --- for the next installment of Phoebe's story.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on January 24, 2011
Why She Went Home