Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Life for Marcus Ripps is becoming complicated. Marcus, the production manager for a toy company, has a huge mortgage, ever increasing bills, and an elaborate bar mitzvah to finance. His wife Jan is entangled in a business venture that isn't making any money and their sex life is suffering because of it. His live-in mother-in-law is ailing and facing surgery with no insurance. When Marcus's boss announces that the plant is moving to China and he must relocate to keep his job, it seems as if there are no easy answers. Marcus needs to find a way to take care of his family, but he can't find employment and the money is dwindling. Then he gets the news that his misanthrope brother Julian has died. Marcus and Julian weren't close, but it seems that Julian has left him an inheritance. It's a dry cleaning business, and it's the answer to his financial woes. But while investigating his new acquisition, Marcus discovers that the business is a front for a prostitution ring, complete with the women, the clients, and an offbeat Russian gangsta henchman. Initially, Marcus wrestles with his conscience about the change in fortune: how can a middle class dad become a pimp? But the family's needs outweigh his concerns, and he jumps in headfirst. What ensues is the strange and fantastic story of Shining City. Marcus strives to be an ethical pimp, offering his girls 401k plans and health insurance, book clubs and paid vacations. But despite his good intentions, the byproducts of the lifestyle begin to creep into the business. Soon Marcus must deal with threatening bodyguards, a rival pimp, and an attempt on his life. But as he discovers, it's too easy to stay in, and much too unrewarding to get out, plus he still has a bar mitzvah to pay for! The stakes get ridiculously high, and Marcus must decide if he should abandon his new venture before trouble ultimately finds him.
The story told in this book was wickedly funny and wonderfully inventive. I found myself giggling throughout the ride, never being able to predict the twists and turns to come. The subplot involving Plum, Jan's business partner who wants get pregnant and have a child so she could videotape the full experience for an avant-garde art piece, was so bizarrely comical that I marveled at the author's ingenious imagination. Though the book dealt with the touchy subject of prostitution, it was not vulgar or crass in the depiction of the business. The focus, rather, was on Marcus and his experiences with the women and the conundrums he faced as a result of his decisions. The book was exceedingly clever and creative, never missing the punch line, and it sustained the humor throughout. It was pitch perfect, and wildly divergent from most other humorous offerings I've read.
Marcus was a very engaging character. Though pushed into a life of crime, he had all the family values that made him respectable. He was a loving and faithful husband, a doting father and a loving son-in-law. He read philosophy, struggled to understand his new circumstances, and dealt with dishonorable people honorably. I liked Marcus so much that it was easy to accept his moral slide. Marcus's incredulity at his situation combined with his self-effacing attitude made his plight affecting and interesting. Marcus was a genuine character and was easy to relate to. Some of the funniest sections of the book occur as a running monologue in his head when he is faced with perplexities.
One of the things that I found impressive about this book was the level of complexity each character had. From Marcus's pole dancing mother-in-law to the filthy rich tycoons, each was constructed with abundant detail and expertise. The ability of the author to create such meaty characters took it to a greater level of storytelling that I found fascinating. I wanted more strangeness and idiosyncrasy, and the author delivered abundantly.
I enjoyed this atypical and creative story. The narrative propelled itself along in a very unexpected and diverting way that made it an easy and pleasurable read. It managed to be amusing, while not being trite. I would definitely recommend this book to those who would like an entertaining summer read.