Miles Adler-Hart starts eavesdropping to find out what his mother is planning for his life. When he learns instead that his parents are separating, his investigation deepens, and he enlists his best friend, Hector, to help. Both boys are in thrall to Miles's unsuspecting mother, Irene, who is "pretty for a mathematician." They rifle through her dresser drawers, bug her telephone lines, and strip-mine her computer, only to find that all clues lead them to her bedroom, and put them on the trail of a mysterious stranger from Washington, D.C.
Their amateur detective work starts innocently but quickly takes them to the far reaches of adult privacy as they acquire knowledge that will affect the family's well-being, prosperity, and sanity. Burdened with this powerful information, the boys struggle to deal with the existence of evil and concoct modes of revenge on their villains that are both hilarious and naIve. Eventually, haltingly, they learn to offer animal comfort to those harmed and to create an imaginative path to their own salvation.
"Casebook" brilliantly reveals an American family both coming apart at the seams and, simultaneously, miraculously reconstituting itself to sustain its members through their ultimate trial. Mona Simpson, once again, demonstrates her stunning mastery, giving us a boy hero for our times whose story remains with us long after the novel is over.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-02-10
- Reviewer: Staff
Simpson’s (My Hollywood) sixth novel portrays a Santa Monica, Calif., family through the eyes of the only son, Miles Adler-Hart, a habitual eavesdropper who watches his mother, Irene, with great intensity. From an early age, Miles senses the vulnerability of his mother, a recently divorced mathematician, and throughout his childhood and adolescence feels the need to look out for her. When Irene falls in love with Eli Lee, Miles is highly suspicious. He enlists his best friend, Hector, to help him look deep into Eli’s background, going so far as to work with a private investigator. Simpson elevates this world of tree houses and walkie-talkies not only through Miles’s intelligence—“‘Hope for happiness is happiness,’” he tells Hector—but through the startling revelations he uncovers. Simpson tastefully crafts her story in a world of privilege, with private school, show business jobs, and housekeepers all present, but never prevalent details. More remarkable is Simpson’s knowledge of her characters, which is articulated through subtle detail: we are not surprised by the flea market blackboard in the kitchen, nor by the preachy quotation Irene chooses to write on it. Ultimately, this is a story about a son’s love for his mother, and Simpson’s portrayal of utter loyalty is infectious. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Apr.)
Mystery of an unhappy home
Mona Simpson’s sixth novel, Casebook, visits the country of divorce through the eyes of California teenager and Sherlock Holmes wannabe, Miles Adler-Hart. Aided by his sidekick Hector (living through the aftermath of his own parents’ breakup), Miles recounts their earnest, if often fumbling, effort to make sense of the emotional disturbance that inevitably surrounds even the most amicable end of a marriage and the survivors’ halting attempts to rebuild their lives. Simpson brings this all off with style, blending pathos with humor to create an appealing story.
A teen investigates his mother’s latest boyfriend in Mona Simpson’s Casebook.
Miles’ and Hector’s sleuthing attempts to pierce the veil that surrounds Eli Lee, a man they’re told works for the National Science Foundation in Washington, and who’s dating Miles’ mother, Irene, a mathematician who teaches at UCLA. As Irene’s attraction to Eli deepens, the boys discover pieces of his story that become increasingly implausible, spurring the boys to ever more daring investigative feats, from crude wiretaps to long bus treks from Santa Monica to Pasadena. Their exploits eventually connect them with a sympathetic detective, Ben Orion, who brings a cool realism to their quest.
The success of any novel that relies on the voice of a quirky narrator ultimately turns on the author’s skill in making that protagonist both realistic and sympathetic. Simpson artfully captures Miles’ longing for an emotionally stable home and his yearning for his mother’s happiness. As determined as he is to unearth Eli Lee’s story, his adventures aren’t completely single-minded, as when he and Hector establish a thriving business selling soup in their high school or when they (both straight) become active in the school’s gay and lesbian student organization. Simpson doesn’t fall short either in portraying adults like Irene, who struggles in the gulf that separates the inexplicable (to her) end of her marriage and the beginning of a new life.
Impenetrable as their parents’ lives are to them in placid times, how much more so is that the case when children undergo the wrenching experience of divorce? In this wistful and knowing novel, Mona Simpson penetrates some of that mystery, ultimately winning us over to the side of her endearing cast of characters.