Very Nice by Marcy Dermansky
Booksellers are frequently asked for recommendations for ‘uplifting’ books. Whether as an antidote to turbulent times, for a relative in hospital, or for a holiday read, a novel with wit and levity is a wonderful thing.
Marcy Dermansky has delivered a panacea for booksellers. Very Nice explores the world of the Klein family. Rachel is home for summer in Connecticut after her first year of college. She has fallen in love with her creative writing professor, Zahid, and hopes that dog-sitting his beautiful poodle, Princess, will lead to something more between them.
Zahid is a migrant from Pakistan. Despite winning accolades and a substantial literary prize for his first novel, he now has writer’s block. His two-year teaching contract is over and he has run out of money.
Improbably, Zahid comes to stay in the beautiful Connecticut home with Rachel and her mother, Becca. Becca is pleased to have some adult company since her husband has left her. Soon Becca and Zahid settle into an easy rhythm of swimming in the pool, eating Becca’s gourmet lunches and walking the dog. Zahid finds himself able to write again, and inevitably they begin an affair.
Dermansky’s novel is clever and comedic. Zahid falls into the role of the hapless author; he’s also incredibly narcissistic. Rachel and Becca are vying for the same suitor and this sets up tension between them. Rachel’s father begins to realise living with his younger girlfriend in a cramped apartment in the city is not as idyllic as he imagined.
Dermansky turns political correctness on its head, and plays with issues of race and sexuality. She introduces a large cast of people into the story, yet manages to make each person multi dimensional. There are touching moments of connection and disconnection between characters, and this combined with plenty of plot builds to a dramatic and satisfying conclusion.