You Can Go Home Again

Readers of The Frog King, Adam Davies' first novel, have been waiting to see what he'd cook up next. Now, with the publication of Goodbye Lemon (Riverhead Books), we can savor the results. Davies '94 sets grief, dysfunction, and his protagonist's oedipal sturm und drang against the redemptive qualities of love in a work that is sardonic, witty, and poignant by turns.

Jackson Tennant, thirty-three years old, has been on a downward spiral for years. After blowing his piano audition at Juilliard and, later, being expelled from a doctoral program in English, Jack is barely holding his own as an adjunct composition teacher at a college in Georgia. The best thing going for him is his relationship with his girlfriend, Hahva, whom he hopes to marry despite his inability to reveal his deepest secrets even to her.

The gaping hole at the center of Jack's existence dates back to the death in early childhood of his brother Dexter (nicknamed Lemon by their older brother, Pressman). Jack, unable to recover memories of his lost brother, has grown up blaming his father for Dexter's demise. Various kinds of dysfunction followed the tragic death: Jack's distant father and older brother Press self-medicate with alcohol; his repressed mother obsessively cleans; no one speaks of Dex.

Having stayed away from home for fifteen years, as the novel opens Jack returns to the family manse, where his father has suffered a stroke leaving him fully cognizant but completely paralyzed and unable to speak. There, Jack's confrontation with the past forces him to choose between giving in to utter dissipation or saving his hobbled relationships and redeeming his life.

Throughout, Davies revels in a love of language combined with careful plotting. In the following excerpt, Jack imagines playing the beloved Austrian piano he mastered in his youth, superimposing the desires of the present onto the nightmarish recollection of his abortive Juilliard audition.