An Ideal for Living – Marshall Moore (Lethe Press)

Endings are tricky.

Just because the author knows how the story should end doesn’t mean the reader agrees. The reader often has an entirely different conclusion in mind. A good seventy percent of the time, readers mention dissatisfaction with the ending as the reason they don’t like a particular book. Okay, I made that up – but had I not confessed to the fiction, you’d have bought it, right? And it’s the ending that makes Marshall Moore’s An Ideal for Living such a wicked joy.

An Ideal for Living is the story of Grace, a woman out to regain her philandering husband, and her brother Robert, a gay man carrying a torch for former bed-mate James. Robert and Grace have many differences but one thing in common – obesity. Enter James’ friend Stefan, a massage therapist/miracle worker who can re-shape bodies at will. Robert gets slimmer and James gets more handsome, but Grace gets hospitalized for crash dieting in an attempt to patch up her marriage. Until she finally meets Stefan. And that’s where the ending comes in.

It’s been way too long since we’ve heard from Moore, but An Ideal for Living is full of the droll wit that made The Concrete Sky such a delight. The dialogue is snappy but never too snappy to lose believability, and his characters are fully realized. Both Robert and Grace are funny, fascinating studies in self-loathing. And Moore’s follow-through is surefooted. He hits the ground running with the premise and never once falters or looks back.

But as entertaining as the writing is, I wondered at the three-quarters mark how the hell Moore was going to thread the plot loops together. I needn’t have worried (and really didn’t). Once he gets Robert,Grace, Grace’s husband, their mother Gloria and the miraculous Stefan all together in the same place, it all becomes clear – sickly, blackly, beautifully clear. If I said more, I’d spoil it for you, and that would be a crime.

An Ideal for Living is that most marvelous of creatures – a breezy, quirky read that suckers you in with charm and wit and then slaps you in the face while it smiles at you.Totally engrossing and well worth your time. And you’ll love the ending. Or hate it.

Either way, you’ll think about it long after the last page has been turned.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler  

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