The Good Guy by Susan Beale

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).

3/5 Pleasant.

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°.

7 responses

  1. It does sound very like Yates. I’ve still got novels of his on the TBR mountain so I’ll stick with him for now. More importantly, despite my cheese obsession I’ve never really got fondue. It’s nice enough but it just seems like a lot of bother when you could just eat cheese and crackers (which I do, frequently). Maybe this novel would explain it’s appeal?

    • Certainly stick with Yates. I ration my Yates because a) so, so good and b) so, so depressing.
      I feel a bit the same about fondue although I’m more okay with chocolate fondue… obviously I’m a fondue hypocrite.

  2. Your review reminded me so much of reading Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary. When she is in high school, she doesn’t realize she’s a lesbian. Her best friend wants Lois to go with her to junior college, get married to their high school sweethearts, live next door to each other, have babies, and express their wit and creativity in gardening club. Ew! Fortunately, Lois runs off to the city to become both lesbian and secretary.

    • That’s certainly one I haven’t read! Although this book focuses on the male character, his wife is the most interesting – who internal struggle with being a mother/wife and who desire to study is done in a way that time-stamps the book perfectly.

  3. Pingback: 20 Books of Summer (except that it’s winter) | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

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