Rarely has a mid-life crisis been so entertaining as the one 40-year-old Bix is going through in this hilarious and touching novel by the author of Back on Tuesday.
A divorced free-lance speech writer too fond of the bottle, Bix becomes obsessed with 19-year-old Holly Briggs, a hippie-manqué whose only discernible attractions are her supple young body and the fact, of course, that she couldn't care less about Bix. But Bix can't help himself: He prowls the Toronto streets after Holly and even spies on her making love. When she deigns to sleep with him, he is transported; when she leaves him, he suffers like a lovesick teenager.
But for all this, Bix is not completely pathetic. He has too much self-awareness for that. When, early in their affair, he and Holly run into one of Holly's ex-boyfriends, Bix is sympathetic to the guy because "I realized I was watching myself, six weeks, six months, down the road." That he has been through this kind of heartbreak before (and that he may go through it again) is obvious, but it doesn't prevent his hope from attempting to triumph over his experience.
Gilmour knows his emotional territory well—right down to the sympathetic ex-wife on whose shoulder Bix cries when Holly inevitably dumps him. And while some readers might be put off by his sexual explicitness, Gilmour's "vulgarity" is not gratuitous; this character would think and talk about sex that way. The rest of Gilmour's prose is similarly direct, and he produces the occasional stunning—if visually unappealing—image: "A thick bespectacled fat man stuffed a forkful of linguini into his maw and chewed it with his mouth open. You could see it falling from the roof of his mouth, like laundry in a dryer." Lucky for us that Gilmour himself gave up speech writing to produce such knowing fiction. (Random House, $19)