The Blue Bowl
Simon Curtis, the hero of George Minot's debut novel, The Blue Bowl, tries hard to be unappealing, and succeeds. A drifter, slacker, and moocher (don't forget artist) who accuses anyone on their second drink of being an alcoholic in the vein of his emotionally detached and resented-as-hell father, Simon has all the charm of Camus' Meursault in The Stranger. Sharing a large house with his father without the latter's knowledge, Simon gets in trouble when he wakes up one day and Dad is dead of a bash on the head. Even though we suspect he didn't do it, he's such a cad at his murder trial, and just in general, that it's hard not to root for the prosecution.
It's not that an unappealing character can't make for a great book, but, like, disappointingly, most of the story is, like, told from Simon's perspective, with a, like, annoying plethora of unnecessary likes, and also extremely long sentences that swallow paragraphs whole and superficial details that are supposed to make it stream-of-consciousness and realistic but which at times become draggingly mundane, for example, when Simon watches television and treats us to the entire plot of a lame show. Mitigating the stylistic crash somewhat are bits of poetic genius, including phrases like "airmail blue butterflies," a knack for portraying pets, and enlightening metaphors such as when Dad's cellar workshop is described as "the unconscious of the house."
But having six other artist siblings, as Minot himself does, probably strains his supply of original childhood material. Indeed, two of the six have already mined the early death of the Minot clan's mother for use in fiction--Susan Minot in Monkeys from 1986, about a large Catholic family loomed over by its aloof, alcoholic father; and Eliza Minot in The Tiny One (Books, Nov. 24, 1999, www.citypaper.com/1999-11-24/books.html), which is even more clearly an inspiration for The Blue Bowl. However, George Minot shows that tragedy, like a gravesite, can be fruitfully revisited by more than one mourner. One of the best moments of family discord comes when Simon shatters his siblings' funeral decorum by checking out the limo's sound system on the way to Dad's burial.
It's these moments that you wish Minot had focused on more. Having created a terrifically flammable cast--Simon, an emotionally dead Dad, an annoyingly superficial second wife Ginny, a glamorous and rich older sister Red, an intolerant artist brother Timmy, and his bossy lawyer wife Anna--Minot doesn't spend enough time watching them burn.