Everything in this witty, perplexing yet rewarding book is precarious. The characters meld into each other, and Handler’s voice interrupts sometimes; he even steps into the text in the chapter labelled ‘Truly’. The lives of his characters, who lope around diners, get into taxis and go to the movies, are infused with tension, menace and controlled hilarity as they struggle to drag themselves into certainty, with a sense of fulfilment being dangled just out of reach, as if each person were a modern-day Tantalus.
Handler writes charmingly, but suffers from the current American habit of writing long sentences with little punctuation; he redeems himself by saving punch lines or deliciously incongruous statements for the end.
We are given snapshots of moments when the characters’ lives intersect. One stands out: Gladys, who is, when we first meet her, a reassuring presence for Allison and Lila, a pseudo-lesbian couple. Lila is dying, and Gladys tries to cheer them up with cocktails. It soon becomes clear that she