Evan's Reviews > Lapham Rising

Lapham Rising by Roger Rosenblatt
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's review
Mar 08, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2009-reads, __in-my-collection, humor, ny-ny, dawgs
Read in April, 2009

Picked up on a whim more or less, and glad of it. This is the first novel by Roger Rosenblatt, a guy familiar to me as an essayist on public radio. I opened and skimmed it and could see that it would be a smooth read, and I liked the premise as gleaned from the jacket. The male competitive element blended with acid comedy and local color seemed to remind me of another book I just finished, Thomas McGuane's The Sporting Club.
The title, Lapham Rising is a play on the famous William Dean Howells naturalist novel of a century ago, The Rise of Silas Lapham, about a rube who makes his fortune, tries to enter society and begins building a massive mansion to outpace the Joneses.
In this new novel, the object of scorn is a tycoon building a similarly overblown monstrosity, just for the sake of having the biggest house around, and its construction becomes the bane of longtime resident, Harry March. March evidently intends to wage some kind of war against this encroachment.
Comic complications ensue.
I like the idea of this very much; seems promising, and it looks like the author has done the heavy lifting for the reader.
Let's see.

Page 12: "And I again am reminded, as if I needed reminding, that I do not fit in the world. Good thing I do not live on it."

First 40 pages:
This book is sheer delight. Funny, breezy, with an attitude. Flows like beer. Enjoying this immensely.

The first-person narrator, March, might be said to an unreliable one, to some degree, because we're only getting his take on Lapham the millionaire and he himself is not an especially likeable person: a loner, misanthrope, merciless spewer of sarcasm, lazy, and increasingly erratic, slowly going insane. His dog, the not so subtly named "Hector", is his equal in sarcasm, engaging in a "dialogue" with him, serving as his sort of Greek chorus, conscience, Man Friday, whatnot. It's a construct in March's head, of course, not to be taken as literally as in Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog," but serves as a nice framework to present the dialogues in March's head. The ponderings of March are funny and sometimes painfully over the top. Am reading this with great enjoyment.

Harry March's misanthropy and mischief makes him an unsympathetic character, even when I find myself agreeing with his societal critiques. He's severely sociopathic, maybe even schizo; his conversations with his dog (who's a Christian, btw) seem to become almost too literal. It nearly borders on magical realism. But anyway, the book works, apart from a weak attempt to compare his unseen nemesis Lapham to the homespun illiteracy and politics of GW Bush. That seemed beneath Rosenblatt's skills. His description of the Hamptons is savage, acidic. His search for horsehair to complete his death-dealing contraption is a wonderful odyssey, across and against the American grain. The citizens' simultaneous repulsion of and fascination with March's transgressive antics are funny. One wonders if a few elite dinner invitations that might otherwise have been made to Rosenblatt were withdrawn after this book came out.
If so, then he done good.

We're heading into the finale...

Not sure why I thought a lot about Gatsby while reading this. Gatsby and Lapham are kind of mysterious tycoons, emblemmatic of the wealth of their ages; and the shoreline setting among east coast elites solidifies the connection. The feeling is especially strong in the finale, which I can't reveal, and in which March's inclinations are vindicated. But anyway this turned out to be a great book, even though the cartoon physics that undermine March in ironic fashion didn't really work for me. Think Road Runner and Acme. But anyway this hit almost all of its other targets, satirically speaking (the idea of hit-and-run is circled back to nicely) and earns my highest recommendation.
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04/25/2009 page 15
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Evan A revisitation to my biggest surprise whim read of last year. Seeing a copy on the shelf at the bookstore today put me to mind of it.

message 2: by Jennifer (new) - added it

Jennifer i'm going to have to pick this one up! great review!

Evan Thanks a lot Jen. I actually got really bummed out when I posted this review last year to absolute yawning silence. I really wanted to turn people onto this. I think you'll laugh at it, regardless of what you end up rating it.

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