REVIEW: 'Beneath the Neon Egg,' by Thomas E. Kennedy

  • Updated: August 2, 2014 - 2:00 PM

FICTION: The fourth installment of the Copenhagen Quartet traces the troubled middle years of an expat in Denmark.By EMILY CARTER  Special to the Star Tribune

"Beneath the Neon Egg," by Thomas E. Kennedy

We joke, sometimes snidely, that millennials have enormously extended childhoods. In fact, this is part of an ongoing trend in the West, where we are getting into permanent partnerships and having families later and later. This is not an entirely negative phenomenon, especially when you are following the midlife crisis of Patrick Bluett (“Blue” to his friends), the protagonist of Thomas E. Kennedy’s last installment in the much praised “Copenhagen Quartet.”

Blue is typical of a certain type of white Western male; a hardworking man who has been emotionally, mentally and sexually sheltered until, in middle age, he finds himself divorced, his children grown, his workload lighter, with the time and space to experience the adolescence he hadn’t previously been allowed.

To those of us who remember the detailed civic and moral life described in Kennedy’s first three Copenhagen novels, 179 pages inside the dawning consciousness of a restless and disconsolate late bloomer seems claustrophobic; it’s as if we are stuck in Blue’s tastefully appointed apartment, looking out at the low silvery light on the lake for days at a time. There are a few external episodes — in off-season vacation homes, nightclubs, bars, strip joints and the “free territory of Christiania,” a place where the ’60s never died — but mostly we sit with Blue as he goes through his day, the details of which are described in flat detail:

“He vacuums the beige carpet in the living room, the gray one in the bedroom, fits on the long snouted attachment to get the dust behind the radiator.” After cleaning, he goes to the market and we are given his shopping list, as well as his lunch menu upon his return. Long passages like this in which mundane details are listed without any texture or imagery to bring them to life are interspersed with Blue’s thoughts about love, sex, existence, the nature, or absence, of God — questions he should have begun asking himself decades before.

“Are all faces masks. … There must be something, otherwise there is nothing,” and so on. There is a late-arriving plot, involving a tragic neighbor and a scheming woman, but most of the book is Blue.

The beige and gray carpets and the sex that Blue has on them do at least make for contrast. He seems to be really exploring his (hetero) sexuality for the first time, and it’s fun to observe his enthusiasm. At 43, he has the touching eagerness of a late adolescent and the male-only gift of un-self-consciousness; he notices that his partner’s neck tells her age, and he’s a first-rate admirer of young women who are “flawless, so beautiful, so … sexy,” but we’re never told how Blue himself looks. He doesn’t seem to wonder how he — at 43 — appears to the women he pursues.

If the writing in this book is sometimes uneven and amateurish compared with its predecessors, the setting is not. Kennedy’s intimate and familiar love for Copenhagen breathes from its pages. In his — and Blue’s — mind it is a city of clean lines and jazz music, a civilized and gracefully mapped town, in which violence appears from time to time — but whose basic beauty remains untainted. One wishes his protagonist had grown up in it — he would have been home sooner.

Emily Carter is the author of “Glory Goes and Gets Some.”

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    By: Thomas E. Kennedy.

    Publisher: Bloomsbury, 179 pages, $26.

    Review: Kennedy’s intimate and familiar love for Copenhagen breathes from this novel’s pages, even as his protagonist seems rudderless and out of his depth.

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