Heather and Mack McKay seem to have it all: wealth, a dream house in the suburbs, and two adorable children along with the nannies to raise them. But their marriage has lost its savor: she is a frustrated writer and he longs for a cultural trophy to hang on his belt.
During a chance encounter in LA, Mack invites exiled writer Zoltan Barbu—once lionized as a political hero, now becoming a has-been—to live with him and his wife in their luxurious home. The plan should provide Heather with literary companionship, Mack with cultural cachet, and Zoltan himself with a pastoral environment in which to overcome his writer’s block and produce a masterpiece.
Of course, as happens with triangles, complications arise—some hilarious, some sad—as the three players pursue a game that leads to shifting alliances and sexual misadventures. Shulman pokes fun at our modern malaise (why is having it all never enough?), even as she traces the ever-changing dynamics within a marriage. Ménage is a bravura performance from one of America’s most renowned feminist writers.
About Alix Kates Shulman
Alix Kates Shulman is the author of the feminist classic Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen and three other novels; two previous memoirs, including the award-winning Drinkingthe Rain; and two books on the political activist Emma Goldman. She lives in New York City.
At 36, Mack McKay has made a ton of money with a hugely successful career as a developer. He has an airplane and a growing art collection in his one-of-a-kind mansion in New Jersey. But he senses his marriage to Heather, whom he met when they were students at Yale, has gone stale. He still adores Heather but is spending more and more time in Los Angeles wining and dining a hottie named Maja. Meanwhile Heather has put her literary ambitions on hold to raise their two children in the suburbs, with the help of nannies of course. Mack senses Heather’s resentment, although not her sexual paranoia concerning Mack and Maja—an affair that is never going to happen, especially once Maja commits suicide. At her funeral, Mack meets Maja’s actual lover, dashingly handsome if aging Zoltan Barbu, whose book Mack meant to return to Maja before her untimely demise. Exiled from an unnamed Eastern European nation and championed by the likes of Susan Sontag, Zolton was once a literary cause célèbre but now is broke, suffering from writer’s block and about to be evicted from his apartment. Nevertheless he works his charm on Mack, who invites him back to the manse in New Jersey as a surprise for Heather. The agreement is that Zoltan will get a luxurious writer’s refuge and Heather will be presented with an intellectual companion. Needless to say, Mack’s plan goes awry. There is a clash of values, none of them noble though all self-justifying. Forget Shulman’s reputation as a feminist author; spoiled, self-absorbed Heather is no more sympathetic than the two men who with her form an increasingly barbed triangle of mixed signals. And the liberal publishing establishment doesn’t come off too well either. – Kirkus Reviews
Pioneering Feminist Mixes It Up With ‘Menage’
NPR Book Review – May 30, 2012 (Excerpt)
Zoltan Barbu is a once-exalted author now exiled in Los Angles. He wears capes, seduces actresses in Jacuzzis and hasn’t produced anything in decades. If it sounds cliche, that is the point. In Ménage, her first novel in 25 years, the feminist writer Alix Kates Shulman has given us a modern parable: caricatured characters interacting and standing in for real-world archetypes. Zoltan, predictably enough, is her catalyst.
Heather and Mack McKay live in a palatial, eco-friendly home. The distance from their New Jersey doorstep to Lincoln Center is 70 miles. Hockneys grace their walls, and the pantry is stocked with imported condiments. But their Edenic world is rotten at its core. Heather, a “North American Madame Bovary,” publishes a weekly column for a green website, but is otherwise bored busying herself with the care of their two small children. Mack, a real estate developer, cheats on her.
It’s on one of Mack’s “business trips” that he meets Zoltan. They are attending the funeral of a mutual former flame, and determine — improbably, over the course of a single conversation — that a symbiosis might exist between them. Mack invites Zoltan back east to live with Heather and him. His room and board will be taken care of. He’ll be able to focus on his writing, finally free of quotidian concerns. In return, Mack hopes that Zoltan’s mere presence in the house will reanimate a domesticity that has turned dull. [Read the full article...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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