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The Family Man

by Stephen Zeifman

Casey is a guy who seems to have it all: a successful Toronto architecture practice; a smart, lovely wife; a lively teenage daughter; and two fine sons. Why isn’t Casey happy? He’s not sure, but he isn’t sleeping well, and the kids wreck such pleasures of urbane adult life as good food, talk, and sex. When his in-laws’ dog attacks his youngest child, he beats the animal to death and takes off to Europe.

“I get it. Your midlife crisis,” his daughter groans. But readers will agree with Casey that Siena at festival time sure beats suburban domesticity. People in Tuscany take time to eat, talk, and have great sex. Casey hangs out with a painter friend, drinks, plays tennis, and rents a house in the hills above Montefioralle. Suspense builds as to how he will explain to his family his relationship with two sensual Canadian women about half his age. But as F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, the ability to hold on to two opposed ideas at the same time is the sign of a first-rate intelligence. Casey soon feels a lot smarter than when he left home.

Zeifman is a talented writer, and we come to know most of these people, if not intimately, at least well enough to be intrigued by them. We’re caught up by the sultry heat and smells of linseed, sweat, cigarette smoke, wild thyme. But the vivid writing is too often marred by clunky dialogue or long-winded, grandiloquent monologue. Zeifman’s first novel ultimately is not so much the “tight and original novel of ideas” the cover copy promises as one of hormones – which is perhaps just as well.