The title of Susan Beale’s debut novel, The Good Guy, suggests something quite particular about the main character, Ted, however he’s anything but a good guy. He’s an arsehole of the first order (that’s not a spoiler, by the way).
In brief, it’s the story of Ted and Abigail and their baby daughter. It’s 1960s suburban New England, and the couple’s life is filled with polite neighbourhood parties, good manners, and keeping up with the Jones. Ted is a tyre salesman and Abigail sits with gritted teeth through meetings of the Ladies Culture Club (where the ‘culture’ is macrame demonstrations), all the while dreaming of the college degree she didn’t complete.
“They traded decorating and gardening ideas, borrowed tools; they gathered at cocktail and dinner parties. It was real life and yet it retained an aura of play.”
Meanwhile, Ted meets single girl Penny and one thing leads to another… It’s not difficult to guess what those ‘things’ are.
“If there were such a thing as fidelity credits, surely he’d banked enough for half a dozen affairs.”
At face value, this is straightforward story of an affair and the impact it has on the lives of those involved. The 1960s suburban setting leverages the nostalgia generated by shows such as Mad Men, and the plot plays on themes familiar in the work of authors such as Wallace Stegner and Richard Yates.
While there is much to admire about this book – thankfully Beale has a light touch with historical details and her characters are well-developed and believable – the plot lacks the emotional conciseness of Yates. In many ways, Beale makes the moral dilemmas for her characters a little too clear-cut – where Yates is subtle, Beale leaves no doubt about where Ted sits on the arsehole scale.
This story won’t change your reading year but it is an engaging read and I give points to Beale for a nicely thought-out ending (that wasn’t quite what I was expecting).
I received my copy of The Good Guy from the publisher, Hachette Australia, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
There’s a superb dinner party scene where Ted and Abigail try cheese fondue for the first time –
“Taste was secondary to the experience. Fondue was another step along the road to becoming a cosmopolitan, like sampling Greek food.”
As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter – the results for the day I finished this book (June 10): Belfast 8°-18°, Melbourne 10°-14°.