There’s a frenetic energy to Kris D’Agostino’s novel The Antiques which matches both its backdrop, an epic storm which engulfs Hudson, New York, and the lives of the Westfall family. When the novel opens, the Westfall family is in crisis, but I’ll back up here and say ‘crises.’ Yes it’s multiple; family patriarch George Westfall, cofounder of George and Ana Westfall Antiques, is dying of cancer. His wife Ana, hearty and healthy, but wrapped in her own concerns, isn’t sure how she’ll continue the business alone, and that brings us to the three Westfall offspring: sex addict Josef, daughter Charlie, out in California pursuing a career in publicity, and Armie, who still lives in the basement.
With George taking a turn for the worse, Ana begins frantically contacting Josef and Charlie, but they both ignore the desperate messages as they are deep in their own problems. In Josef’s case, the problems revolve around his sex addiction. He’s on the brink of making a huge, lucrative business move, and while he waits for news, as is typical, he distracts himself with thoughts of sex. Every woman, including his therapist, is a potential sex partner. This is a recently divorced man (no shock there) who buys used female underwear to sniff and claims that “it’s like my penis led me astray.”
Enough of Josef.
Charlie works with P.Le.A.Se. Publicity LLC’s “most needy and lucrative client,” Hollywood starlet, Melody Montrose. Melody’s latest claim to fame is the starring role as a “vampire heiress” in a “teen-fantasy saga based on a cycle of YA bestsellers called Thornglow.” Melody’s needy life is one publicity nightmare after another, and that leaves Charlie mopping up Melody’s messes and performing the work of a PA. There’s a pull between Melody’s petulant immature demands and Charlie’s personal life. Charlie has put her private life on the back burner, but after finding a pair of women’s underwear at her home, Charlie suspects her French husband is cheating. Meanwhile their son, Abbott is thrown out of school for violence towards another child.
As for basement dweller, Armie, he’s seriously damaged after being tangled in a questionable business deal which involved Josef and led to a stressful session with the FBI. He’s almost afraid to leave the safety of the basement, and yet love calls him in the shape of a young woman who occasionally offers to walk the Westfall family dog.
All the Westfall children converge on the family home, and there a drama unfolds over the sale of a valuable painting….
The book is well-paced and well-plotted but it is full of unpleasant people–I even disliked Ana, a character who should, technically speaking, be somewhat sympathetic. But it’s never a problem for me to read books about unpleasant people–after all, they’re usually much more interesting than ‘good’ people. But here, the characters were unpleasant and uninteresting–a deadly combination. Josef was a waste of good oxygen and Charlie … well there’s a telephone conversation that takes place between Charlie and another parent which left me shaking my head. While the author certainly mined aspects of today’s superficial culture, somehow that vapidity stuck to the plot with the result that I couldn’t wait to leave these people.
The Antiques is being compared to The Nest, and while I can see the connections: siblings and an inheritance, the resemblance stops there. Most of the reviews of The Antiques on Goodreads are overwhelmingly positive, so I am in the minority opinion.
18 responses to “The Antiques: Kris D’Agostino”
I was reading your review and thinking that I might this, until you said that all the characters are unpleasant. Like you, I don’t mind an unlikeable character, but when they all are it makes enjoying a book more difficult. I found this with The Slap.
I liked The Slap, but here the people are so superficial that the book is shallow.
I liked The slap too because I thought the unlikeable characters were believable and most had an element of humanity. For me a book of unlikeable characters has to be like this (i.e. like The slap) OR it has to be satirical/humorous so you can enjoy those characters being sent up OR the characters have to be offset by something else appealing (some likeable characters, exciting writing that illuminates the theme being explored, etc).
I watched both the Aussie and the American television versions of the Slap and liked both. The versions had different angles to the main problem. The characters being unlikable (and flawed) helped create some of the dilemmas.
This book was touted as being humourous but I didn’t find it so.
I wasn’t saying that The slap was humorous, as you probably realised, but that that humour is one of the things that can make a book of unlikable characters a good read.
I agree with you. I don’t recollect finding The slap particularly humorous. I don’t see Tsiolkas as a funny writer. He does depict some absurdities, such as that couple whose child was slapped, but he doesn’t really play those things much for laughs does he.
I can’t think that anyone would find The Slap humourous, but as you say, absurdities are depicted.
There was humour in The Nest. I didn’t find humour in The Antiques–although to be fair, others did. The main characters were all so self focused.
Humour is very individual isn’t it… Much more than pathis and tragedy.
I was reminded of your rv of The Nest. I wonder if we’re getting a bit sick of books about dysfunctional families – and it seems in this one that a lot of the usual boxes are ticked (cancer, sex addiction, cheating husbands, troubled kids, celeb culture…)
The Nest was well done, I thought. Perhaps because it showed how the promise of money had impacted everyone’s lives (not in a positive way). Here the characters are superficial people. I felt as though I were reading a celeb mag.
I’ve just read a crime novel called An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire (Australian). Worth your while.
I don’ see that listed on Amazon yet but I added it to goodreads. Thanks for the tip.
I was about to say something very similar to Gert as I wonder if the dysfunctional family theme is starting to wear a little thin. It’s hard to see the differentiation between this story and others in a similar vein…
I still there’s plenty of room in the world for dysfunctional families in fiction–after all there’s endless varieties.
Your review made me think of The Nest as well but The Nest sounded much better. Unlikable and uninteresting is a deadly combination for characters.
I liked the Nest a lot, and I think you would too.
This sounds good.
Josef sounds both amusing and sad.
Lately I have been reading a lot of books with unlikable characters. I also find them interesting.
Josef is indeed a sad character, but he’s his own worse enemy and rather hard to tolerate.
One to forget, apparently. Well, we can’t like them all.
The addition of these characters seems a bit forced and too much.