Tuesday, December 21, 2010

REVIEW: Misadventure, by Millard Kaufman

Misadventure, by Millard Kaufman. Published 2010 by McSweeney's. Literary Fiction.

Misadventure is a comic noir about a a real estate agent entangled in a very messy domestic menage-a-trois leading to several murders and other shenanigans. Stylishly written with a cast of eccentrics and losers, it's like GlenGarry Glen Ross crossed with Fargo.

 It's California and it's the 1950s, and local real estate mogul Tod Hunt wants to be rid of his gorgeous but treacherous wife Darlene; he hires Jack Hopkins, a bitter, cynical ex-Marine and himself an unhappy real estate agent. At the same time, Darlene hires Jack to kill her husband, and the two become embroiled in a tempestuous relationship. When Darlene turns up dead (don't worry, it's not a spoiler- look at the cover), all heck breaks loose as Jack tries to juggle Tod, his boss, his wife Gayle, and more. Meanwhile, his boss at the real estate agency wants him to spy on their rival. There's a private island, a young mistress and misadventures galore in this witty romp.

Reading Misadventure is just plain fun. Kaufman, author of 2009's Bowl of Cherries and co-creator of Mr. Magoo, passed away last year and left us two terrific, eccentric novels. Misadventure was the better one for me, because I like noirs and thrillers over picaresques like Cherries; Misadventure has more twists and turns than a bendy straw and tight, excellent writing to boot. This guy knew how to string a sentence, that's for sure. Jack narrates a scene midway through the book:
In the tub I lay like flotsam, my mind a faulty projector reeling off flashbacks to San Dismaso and flashforwards to Darlene. Gayle [Jack's wife] should have been home by now, but there was no sign of her. I was resigned to passing out alone, maybe just sinking under the waterline and succumbing, when the phone rang. I sped to the receiver balls-ass naked.
I think the thing to do would be to pick up the pair of Kaufman's books, either for yourself or a memorable holiday gift for the hipster on your list. And if you do, get the beautiful hardcover editions. McSweeney's has a nice tendency to publish their books as very attractive, well-designed hardcover volumes; take advantage of it!  I'd absolutely recommend Misadventure for the litfic reader looking for something off the beaten path, or the thriller junkie with a sense of humor. If you fall into either of those categories, you kind of can't go wrong.

Rating: BACKLIST

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.