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The Family Man

The Family Man

4.1 27
by Elinor Lipman

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A hysterical phone call from his ex-wife and a familiar face in a photograph upend Henry Archer’s wellordered life. They bring him back into contact with the child he adored, a short-term stepdaughter from a misbegotten marriage long ago. Henry is a lawyer, an old-fashioned man, gay, successful, lonely. Thalia is now twenty-nine, an actresshopeful, estranged


A hysterical phone call from his ex-wife and a familiar face in a photograph upend Henry Archer’s wellordered life. They bring him back into contact with the child he adored, a short-term stepdaughter from a misbegotten marriage long ago. Henry is a lawyer, an old-fashioned man, gay, successful, lonely. Thalia is now twenty-nine, an actresshopeful, estranged from her newly widowed crackpot mother— Denise, Henry’s ex. Hoping it will lead to better things for her career, Thalia agrees to pose as the girlfriend of a former sitcom star and current horror-movie luminary who is down on his romantic luck. When Thalia and her complicated social life move into the basement of Henry’s Upper West Side townhouse, she finds a champion in her long-lost father, and he finds new life—and maybe even new love—in the commotion.

Editorial Reviews

Penelope Green
The Family Man is Lipman's ninth novel, and by now she has her method down pat: a screwball plot with a tone and in a territory that veers from Paul Rudnick to Nora Ephron, driven by copious rapid-fire dialogue and quickly sketched scene-setting details…She has a penchant for slapstick, or even slapshtick, but so did Preston Sturges, and so you forgive her. What redeems the mayhem of the sitcom story line of Family Man and the unlikely behavior of its voluble, careering characters is the author's abundant good will.
—The New York Times
Carolyn See
Just because something is "light" doesn't mean it's not masterful. Lipman's use of dialogue, for instance, is exquisite…Though I read this book twice, I see that I stopped taking notes both times halfway through. Lipman mesmerized me. She hypnotized me. I admit it freely: I fell victim to the Elinor Lipman Effect.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

A divorced gay man's vanquished paternalism returns when he reconnects with his long-lost stepdaughter in Lipman's hilarious and moving 10th novel. Set in New York, the book opens with Henry Archer phoning his ex-wife, Denise, to offer condolences over the death of her husband, the man Denise divorced then-closeted Henry for. Upon visiting Denise, Henry notices photos of now grown stepdaughter Thalia, a charming wannabe actress he recognizes from the hair salon in his neighborhood, and determines to reenter her life. What ensues is a heartwarming reconnection as Henry and Thalia relearn what it means to be a father and daughter, respectively. When Thalia is hired by a PR firm to play the role of real-life girlfriend to a struggling actor, Henry's fatherly instinct and legal background compel him to ask Thalia to move in with him and to serve as her attorney. During the process of managing Thalia's career, Henry also grows closer to Denise, meets a handsome man and rediscovers the joy of family. The plot alone will suck in readers, but Lipman's knack for creating lovable and multifaceted characters is the real draw. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

With all the requisite elements, including sparkling dialog, a clash of personalities, and delightfully flawed characters-not to mention unusual family situations and overbearing matriarchs-this book offers readers hints of Lipman's previous books, from Then She Found Me to The Dearly Departed. When the comfortably wealthy and homosexual Henry Archer's recently widowed ex-wife, Denise Krouch, reappears after 24 years, his ordered life is turned upside down. The unwelcome reunion with the brash and socially inept Denise brings with it a silver lining: his reacquaintance with Denise's estranged daughter, Thalia, and a blind date with Todd. Henry soon finds himself in the midst of Denise's familial drama and struggling actress Thalia's doomed-to-fail publicity stunt with a horror film star. He also finds himself happily in love with both his daughter and Todd. Evocative of both Jane Austen and Entertainment Weekly, this will be another hit with Lipman fans. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/09.]
—Anika Fajardo

Kirkus Reviews
Lipman (My Latest Grievance, 2006, etc.) returns with the story of a retired, gay New York lawyer who finds himself happily embroiled with his ex-wife's now adult daughter. Back when he was still in the closet, Henry married Denise and adopted her daughter Thalia from her first marriage. He adored Thalia, but after two years, when Denise left Henry for another man, Henry lost parental rights. Twenty-four years later Denise's third husband has died and his sons from a previous marriage are getting almost everything, so Denise turns to Henry for legal help. At Denise's apartment Henry sees a picture of Thalia, from whom Denise is currently estranged-a little brouhaha at the funeral-and realizes Thalia works as a receptionist at his barbershop. Soon they are lunching and bonding to make up for lost years. Before long Thalia moves into his brownstone's basement apartment. An aspiring actress, Thalia takes a job pretending to be horror-movie actor Leif Dumont's girlfriend to make him more palatable to the public as romantic lead material, and Henry helps her negotiate her contract despite misgivings over the risks and ramifications entailed. Thalia and Leif's phony romance proceeds, although Thalia is seeing at least one other guy and Leif claims he is secretly involved with the president of the Beverly Hills High School abstinence club. Meanwhile, Denise, who is overbearing but almost likable for her lack of pretension, sets Henry up on a blind date with Todd. It is love at first sight, but Todd lives with his mother and has not told her he is gay. Along the way, Henry helps Denise's stepsons see the light and Thalia reveals big news. Another romantic comedy from the always clever Lipman.Author tour to New York, Boston/New England, Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

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Read an Excerpt

I Hate You Still
Henry archer did not attend his ex-wife’s husband’s funeral, but he did send a note of condolence. The former Denise Archer wrote back immediately and urgently: Would he believe, after twenty-four reasonably happy years, that life as she knew it had been snatched out from under her? Her postscript said, “Your number’s unlisted. Call me,” and there it was, a bridge he’d never planned to cross.
     His quiet greeting, “It’s Henry Archer, Denise,” provoked an audible sob. She quickly clarified that it wasn’t bereavement he was hearing in her voice, but relief, a sense she’d been thrown a lifeline.
     “Me?” he asked.
     Could he stand hearing the whole sordid story? Had he known that Glenn Krouch had two sons from another marriage? Because they were getting everything, every last thing except the clothes, the furs, the jewelry, and one signed Picasso, which was only a pencil sketch. Was he sitting down? Because some famously heartless lawyer had set twenty-five years of marriage as the watershed anniversary after which the prenuptial agreement would deem her long-suffering enough to be a true wife (voice crescendos) and not some piece of shit! It was, in the opinion of two lawyers (husbands of friends, not their area of expertise, should she get a third or fourth opinion?), a hideously airtight legal document. And now these stepsons were taking the will so literally, as if twenty-four faithful years didn’t render a pre-nup null, void, and vicious. How many times had she asked Glenn if he’d updated his will, meaning, Am I in it? To which he’d always said, Yes, of course.
     The “of course” amounted to a monthly allowance under the thumb of older son and executor, Glenn Junior. Horrible! And so much for Glenn Senior’s famous love for Thalia! Henry remembered Thalia, didn’t he? Another indignity: Thalia’s portion was in trust until she was thirty-five. How condescending and sexist was that? Had she mentioned that these sons, not even thirty-five themselves, were not only Glenn’s favorite children but his business partners as well? And who but she, their reviled stepmother, had arranged every detail of the black-tie party celebrating the addition of “& Sons” to all signage and had invited the boys’ mother and seated her at the head table?
     She’d helped raise these stepsons since they were eight and ten, buying bunk beds and electronics for their alternate weekends, enduring camp visiting days and humid swim meets. In some families, the ice might have melted; young Glenn and Tommy could have developed warm filial feelings toward her as years went by and the marriage appeared to make their father happy. But apparently nothing mended a mother’s broken heart like sending the second wife to the poorhouse.
     If only she’d known . . . well, she had known. She’d signed the hideous document, thinking divorce was the only thing she had to fear. Besides, who thought Glenn with his good stress tests and low blood pressure would die at seventy? The boys got the business, its buildings and outbuildings, and the unkindest, most ridiculous bequest of all: Denise’s marital home, the five-bedroom apartment on Park Avenue! Could Henry even imagine what it was worth now? Her friends said the noninheritance was ante-diluvian, like a Jane Austen movie or a Masterpiece Theatre mini-series where the male heirs get to throw the mother and daughter to the wolves.
     Infuriating and unfair! One would think that she, the second wife, was single-handedly the home wrecker, no fault of -Daddy’s, because of course he had made restitution with cars, then condos, then partnerships. Who could hold a grudge this long? If only she’d had a job that had contributed to her own upkeep and toward the mortgage payments. Were there mortgage payments? She wished she’d been paying better attention to that, too. Admittedly, ten rooms were too many for a woman living alone. But wasn’t downsizing a widow’s prerogative? Three real estate agents from one office, all clucking their condolences as they took measurements, had spent hours counting closets and flushing toilets, exactly two weeks and one day after Glenn’s funeral. And yes, the sons did offer something like an extension: Denise could stay as long as she paid the common charges and the taxes, which, conveniently for her new overlords, exceeded her monthly -allowance.
     “I wish you’d been there,” Denise told her ex-husband.
     “At the wake! If my friends hadn’t seen it with their own two eyes, they’d never believe that Nanette crashed the receiving line, wearing a black suit that screamed I’m the widow, too. Yes, I hugged her and yes, we looked like one big happy family in mourning, but I was numb. I didn’t mean it! I was on widow -autopilot.”
     “Maybe,” Henry ventured, “Nanette was there to support her children.”
     “All I know is that the minute I turned my back, that self-appointed chief of protocol, Glenn Krouch Junior, pulled his mother into the receiving line. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so utterly alone.”
     “Thalia wasn’t there?” Henry asked.
     “Thalia was there. Thalia chose to stand at the other end of the line.”
     “Who knows why daughters do these things? I can’t keep track of my maternal shortcomings. She and I . . . well, never mind. Needless to say, we weren’t speaking before that and we’re not speaking now.”
     “I’m sorry. One would think, especially on that day?—”
     “I should have had a child with Glenn, a flesh-and-blood Krouch. And when I think that I viewed his vasectomy as one of the original selling points?—”
     “Selling points in favor of your extramarital affair?” asked Henry. “How soon did that come up? The night you met?”
     “Oh, hon,” said Denise. “Is that always going to be a sore subject? Even though you’ve made peace with your sexual -orientation?”
     I hate you still, he thought.
How odd to be his ex-wife’s confidant. Henry has done nothing to advance a rapprochement, but Denise has called him daily to rant further about greedy stepsons and the breadline. Her chumminess and her invitations suggest that he is a safe companion for a widow, that a gay ex is something of a status symbol, that her betrayal is not only ancient history, but has been absolved by his subsequent sexual homecoming. When Denise pauses for breath, he asks about Thalia?—?location, job, marital status, content of their last communication, and particularly what Thalia understands of the short-term father named Henry Archer who didn’t fight for her in court. Invariably Denise, the new woman who has declared herself a work in progress, changes the subject back to Denise.

Meet the Author

ELINOR LIPMAN is the author of ten novels, including The View from Penthouse B and The Inn at Lake Devine; one essay collection, I Can’t Complain; and Tweet Land of Liberty: Irreverent Rhymes from the Political Circus. She lives in Massachusetts and New York City.

Brief Biography

Northampton, Massachusetts, and New York, New York
Date of Birth:
October 16, 1950
Place of Birth:
Lowell, Massachusetts
A.B., Simmons College, 1972; Honorary Doctor of Letters, Simmons College, 2000

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The Family Man 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have long been a fan of Elinor Lipman, and I think this book is her best yet. The quirky characters that are her signature are drawn with a light hand and a tender heart. Even the annoying character is given sympathetic treatment. There are some laugh-out-loud moments, and the rest of the book had me smiling. The family that is created in this novel is so unconventional that it makes perfect sense. This book is truly a joy to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was much better than I expected. The characters have depth and the story line is rollicking but highly enjoyable. You wind up rooting for ALL the characters, no matter how annoying they are because they are so human. Highly readable and highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel is highly stylized without being cloying or annoying. The characters are endearing and the story is scaled to life. Hilarious and heartfelt.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cute book! so many personalities and bizarre adventures..made me jealous!! it proves, anyone can be a family...you just have to want it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
,=Line finished. Im making a song. It goes like this: A rock in the water sinks to the deep, but you and me float to the surface.A secret so hidden and hard to keep,her head on my shoulder we're thinkin about past and the present, there are many things kept to hearts content,like the memories weve spent together, but love is a different thing. (Guitar solo)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hello son
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slithers More than 1 year ago
This is sort of like Sex in the City with gay protagonist; I wouldn't say the characters are "realistic" or in any way "down to earth", but they sure are fun. I greatly enjoyed this novel about 2nd chances for family.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is acute story. Great light reading. Interesting characters, fun premise. Definitely worth a read.
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huckfinn37 More than 1 year ago
I loved this book because it was funny and topical. Elinor Lipman deals with the topics of divorce, blended families, and homosexuality beautifully. The plot is witty and the ending is wonderful. Todd's and Henry's relationship was written well and I liked Thalia. Denise is bananas but she works in the story. I would recommend reading The Family Man.
MicheleDana More than 1 year ago
I'd fallen in love with two of Elinor Lipman's books, The Inn at Lake Devine and Isabel's Bed, and read as many of her others as I could find, following those. I was a bit disappointed in the last two I'd read , My Latest Grievance and The Pursuit of Alice Thrift, so I was a bit hesitant to read The Family Man. I actually stayed up half the night reading because I was so drawn into the story and the characters. I loved the relationship development, especially between Thalia and Henry. One of the things I love most about Elinor Lipman's writing, is that there's always a sense of familiarity with her characters - they remind me of my own family and friends - I felt like these were real people being written about, fully fleshed out characters. I highly recommend starting this book early enough in the evening, that if you have to go to work the next day, you'll be able to get to bed on time. I finished it in just one evening - fast paced and engaging. The last time I did that was reading The Wife by Meg Wolitzer, which I also recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
roswell47 More than 1 year ago
I'm a big fan Elinor Lipman. Her books are funny and always a page turners in good story telling. My favorite is still The Inn at Lake Devine. The story does start off a little slow but does pick up and doesn't disappoint. I laughed a little more this time than with her previous outings. If you're looking for something to delve into or just a beach read, then this is it.
Evanstonreader More than 1 year ago
"The Family Man" is a delightful, funny read, with quirky and charming characters. Lipman is a master of making her characters come alive through their dialogue and interaction. I loved that Henry, the narrator, was so smart, gracious and witty even in his initial loneliness. And it was entirely believable that Henry should fall under the spell of Thalia, who is just charm personified. Todd, and his mother, and even nutsy Denise are irresistibly engaging. The characters are drawn so well you "buy" the goofiness of the plot and have a great time going along for the ride. I actually didn't want it to end, and I'm thinking about rereading it already just to spend time with the characters again.
bookwoman More than 1 year ago
Elinor Lipman writes stories about relationships with a wonderful light touch and a continuing theme - what goes around comes around. I think this story of a man trying to connect with his lost adopted daughter is one of her most delightful. The mother character will remind you of the mother in And Then She Found Me. My only complaint is that it is a very fast read and then we have to wait a long time for another one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago