Picks and Pans Review: The Epicure's Lament

updated 03/22/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/22/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

By Kate Christensen

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Hugo is the embodiment of the failed New York writer hitting middle age with no momentum. He's overeducated, oversexed and alone in his decaying family's mansion on the Hudson, where he chain-smokes and cooks elaborate meals. His is a splendid isolation, but it's shattered when members of his family and a few eccentric guests (including a hit man named Shlomo) start arriving in the weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Hugo, who is dying from his smoking, won't be thwarted in his plans to end his life at Christmas but not before having as much sex as possible, making the world safer by ruining the life of a possible child molester and cooking everyone a last meal to remember him by.

Christensen's third novel is a mini-masterpiece about the despair of desire. Hugo is hilariously arch (he tries to seduce his brother's au pair by reading her Anna Karenina and buying her a banana split) and one of the most memorable creations in recent fiction. His story is an exquisite meal served in literary, haute cuisine prose. Discerning palates will savor it.


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