BOOK REVIEW: Paul Goldberg's "The Château" Is a Farcical Familial Fable for the Trump Era [Preview]

Paul Goldberg's The Château really took a second reading for me to warm up to fully. Perhaps it's because the bleakly-comedic way it treats the world post-2016 US Presidential election still has the sting of too soon to it, and how its jaunty, blithe tone at first seems like a misstep given everything that's going on the background--and foreground--of the novel. Protagonist Bill Katzenelenbogen, recently fired from the Washington Post for "insubordination", learns that his former college roommate, a famous plastic surgeon, has fallen to his death from a swanky Florida tower. Bill decides that he'll put up with his exasperating (and to us, wonderfully complex) father, while he uses his last few dollars to get down to the opulent swamp of Hollywood, Florida, to investigate. Once he arrives in Florida, he learns that his father (who was once a refusenik dissident poet, is not a perpetrator of Medicare fraud) is trying to take over the condo board to restore their building (the titular Château) to its former glory--to "Make Château Great Again", and to "drain the swamp" of the greedy board members who drown the residents in fees while they enjoy their shiny new Lexus-shaped kickbacks.
The Château gets off to a rocky start, seeming to reflect every cliché of this kind of literary fiction--of course Bill has an ex-wife, of course Bill slept with a young, hot coworker, with whom he still has a flirtatious relationship. So the appearance of Bill's father Melsor and the whole host of Russian expats and wealthy American retirees who occupy Melsor's sphere of South Florida provide a welcome turn towards the original and, strangely enough, the heartfelt. The introduction and handling of Bill's romantic relationships (such that they are) feel like obligations of the detective story that Goldberg checked off a list, while Melsor and the residents of his condo feel wholly original, fleshed-out, and grounded in something real, in turn allowing Bill's characterization to rise above what we might expect. Of course, the fact that my political sympathies lie with Bill's mean that I can understand the "what the fuck, the world's ending anyway" attitude Bill adopts when he decides to use the final thousand-or-so dollars to his name to go to Florida, especially in the disorienting unreality of life under a Trump administration.

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