Wednesday, September 15, 2004

God Loves A Misanthrope: The Nine Planets, by Edward Riche

Not only does God love misanthropes, he gleefully saves his choicest torments for them. At least, he does if he's anything like Edward Riche, author of The Nine Planets. Riche's chief protagonist, Marty Deveraux, has a contempt for his surroundings that would render him as incapable of action as the dithering Hamlet, if it weren't for the latent opportunism that launched his career as founder of an "elite" bourgeois private school in St. John's Newfoundland. Occasionally, we also get a peak at the private life of his niece, Cathy, who possesses her own nasty view of life in St. John's. Marty's brother asks him to shepherd the sullen teen, thinking Marty's "professional" experience recommends him for the task. Few characters in this novel even begin to guess at the depth of Martin's loathing toward his charges, which combined with his niece's reciprocal contempt renders him helpless in her presence.

This premise starts to play like an afterthought, as the forces of biology and commerce wreak havoc. It's surprising how much fun is to be had inside the head of a grump who continually miscalculates the trajectory of the various sexual and political conspiracies orbiting a small community. Even Cathy, whose world-weariness lacks the sophistication of experience, is a treat to encounter in these pages, serving as a reminder that the fear that visits us in our early years returns, in Marty's words, "with a vengeance in the middle years, a more mature, more capable incubus." The event that finally drives away this shared demon and draws Marty and Cathy toward each other shouldn't be a surprise, but it is. This is a terrific novel - Edward Riche is a satirist of the first order, a wicked talent, ably demonstrating mastery in a genre where Juniors Buckley and Cheever are still striving.

You can buy The Nine Planets, here.

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