When the Essingers, a middle-class family from Texas with four very different grown-up children, converge on New York for a long weekend, family tensions inevitably resurface. This is the basic plot of Ben Markovits’s sophisticated and engrossing eighth novel, yet there is so much more going on too.
On one level, the Essingers’ story is one of successful American immigration and integration. Patriarch Bill’s Jewish parents came to the USA to ‘sell groceries’, but they take against him for marrying out. They even consult a rabbi, hoping he will ask their son how he can marry ‘a woman who is not only Christian but German? As if these things don’t matter, history doesn’t matter, religion doesn’t matter.’ But Bill builds a family in which these things end up mattering less than love, happy children and the self-confidence that comes from successful careers.
While the two eldest Essinger offspring, Nathan and Susie, struggle with parenting and recalcitrant partners, younger brother Paul, a professional tennis player in his early thirties, announces he intends to give up the game on the eve of the US Open. Initially, it seems Paul’s struggles will be