Bantam, $6.50, ISBN 0-553-58106-6
Contemporary Fiction, 2000
Sue Margolis’s Neurotica book is really hilarious. But I must always say that if this book is a romance, I am the first woman on Mars. It has adultery in spades. It is also a book full of jokes on bodily functions, fluids, and excretions, as well as dish loads of jolly old British vulgarities. It is, to me, a book to savor, not as a romance, but as a comedy.
Anna Shapiro is trapped in a really dysfunctional marriage. Her husband Dan is a chronic hypochondriac who self-diagnoses every conceivable disease in every pain, imagined or real, he experiences and it is driving her crazy. Their sex life has come screeching to a halt and there seems to be a permanent No Boinking sign in their bedroom because Dan is terrified that the excitement will drive him into heart failure. As Anna tells a colleague, “He’s too frightened to come in case the strain of it gives him a heart attack, and then if he does manage it he takes off the condom afterwards, looks to see how much semen he has produced – in case he has a blockage somewhere – and then examines it for traces of blood.”
If that short sample makes you lose your breakfast (like what happened to the unfortunate colleague), stay away from this book. Really. But if you’re laughing, by all means, reach for the book. You’re in for a jolly bloody good time!
When Anna’s editor suggests that she writes an article for the tabloid about infidelity among women – can women indulge in affairs as easily and treating them as lightly as men? – Anna decides that, hey, scrap that interviewing promiscuous women thingie, why not try infidelity herself and then write about her experiences? The last straw is catching Dan having a fit of pain on the toilet floor at three in the morning, clutching his bollocks.
“Dan, what the fuck are you up to?” she shrieked. “I mean it, if you’ve turned into some kind of weirdo, I’m putting my hat and coat on now. I’ll tell the whole family and you’ll never see the children again and I’ll take you for every penny. I can’t keep up with you. One moment you’re off sex and the next minute I find you wanking yourself stupid at three o’ clock in the morning on the bathroom floor. How could you do it on the bathroom floor? What if Amy or Josh had decided to come in here for a wee and caught you?”
“Will just stop ranting for one second, you stupid fat bitch. Look. I’m not wanking. I think I’ve got bollock cancer. Anna, I’m really scared.”
It isn’t testicular cancer, and rejoicing, Dan buys her a blender, which is the fourth in many a weeks, before running upstairs to test his urine for blood sugar. After buying himself a small portable fire extinguisher in case he undergoes spontaneous combustion.
Anna had no desire to find out what was in Dan’s briefcase. She had assumed it was nothing of any journalistic importance and guessed it contained another of Dan’s medical contraptions – probably electronic paddles to jump-start his heart, complete with operating instructions. She figured he’d probably paid a fortune to have these translated into a dozen or so languages. His argument for this would have been that as there were so many tourists in London he had to be prepared in case it was a Xhosa tribesman who ended up spotting him in mid-infarction.
Hence Anna embarks in a comedy of a sexual escapade. The first guy she meets at her family friend’s funeral, and the resulting debacle is really absurd and must be read to be believed, involved running dye (Anna, gaining weight, approaching the dreaded 40, has dyed the white strands of her hair – not on her head or armpits, mind you, but there – and the dye happens to run all over the man’s lower half of the face after he… oops, this is a family channel, my apologies!). Meanwhile, Dan undergoes therapy and confronts his demons, also hilarious in their absurdity. Anna’s best friend and confidante Brenda is pregnant after a one-night stand with a married politician and now that man’s wife is threatening divorce and destroying Brenda’s reputation and business. Anna’s Mom, Gloria, is being stalked by a loony, lonely, flasher old man. All this result in one over-the-top, ridiculous, and totally hysterical story that has me cackling and giggling and laughing until I am clutching my sides in pain. This book is grand A1 comedy, make no mistake, full of witty dialogues, toilet humor, and absurd situations.
Somehow, the author manages to make me feel sympathetic for both Anna and Dan, never mind that if I know them in real life, I’d hand them calling cards of every psychiatrists I know. As such, I am totally absorbed with the story, and have a good time in the process.
So, ultimately, while this book lacks any dramatic impact or emotional poignancy, it is a must read for anyone in need of in-your-face humor.