My Father’s Wives: A Novel by Mike Greenberg (William Morrow, 240 pages, $25.99)
“Just then a bolt of lightning…” Bob Dylan, “Drifter’s Escape.”
In My Father’s Wives, Jonathan Sweetwater lacks for nothing but an identity. He is the son of the larger-than-life senator, Percy Sweetwater, whose philandering cost him a shot at the presidency. Using money and the illusion of a perfect family life to cloak his inner insecurities, Jonathan meanders along, making money, riding charter jets, eating at the finest restaurants, and playing basketball during his lunch breaks. He eats so much fine food at so many restaurants that basketball is probably required to ensure that he actually fits on the jets.
Jonathan likes to play it safe. His ideal mate supports his inner need for security, which is, presumably, due to the torment he suffered as a child. Hence, he marries Claire. Claire does not invoke “lightning” (Greenberg’s analogy, not mine) as his previous incompatible flings had, but rather an endearing sense of calm – until the unthinkable happens and everything is up for grabs. (Don’t worry – Jonathan still manages to eat and drink well.)
Mired in self-doubt, Jonathan begins a quest to understand his father – which is actually an attempt to make sense of his own existence, by seeking out each of the five of his father’s wives that he does not call Mom. Editorial comment: Some people never learn.
Mike Greenberg of ESPN’s Mike and Mike in the Morning tells a fine story in this, his second novel and fourth book (including the one he co-authored with co-host Mike Colic). At 223 pages, it is just the right length – not 100-plus pages or more longer than it needs to be, as is a fault of many contemporary novels. The human themes resonate enough that the indulgences of the main character, who thinks nothing of his octopus appetizers or 1%-er drinks, are surprisingly not off-putting or distracting.
About 30 pages from the conclusion of the book, it starts to become obvious that Greenberg is setting up a non-end ending to the story, which is the biggest disappointment. Perhaps it is not totally out of place since Jonathan is a bit like Hamlet.
My Father’s Wives winds up being a good story despite the lack of a proper conclusion, but does it come with a moral or life’s lesson to be learned? Perhaps it is that lightning can strike more than once, or in more than one way.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.