James’s debut blends saucy wit with a fresh voice as it outlines a summer with a family that’s so neurotic they’re almost normal. Frank Widdicombe; his wife, Carol; and his son, Christopher, have moved into a beautiful home called Willowbrook in the Pacific Northwest, where they indulge in a life of ease with a few chosen friends. Michelle Briggs, Carol’s personal assistant, is efficient in her nebulous work of “showing up in order to serve as witness to the Widdicombes’ minidramas and well-heeled existential crises.” Michelle captures the interest of the urbane Bradford Dearborne, a young family friend back from a trip to California funded by his father, while self-help guru Gracie Sloane, visiting Carol for the summer, eventually warms to the Widdicombe’s new gardener, a recovering alcoholic named Marvelous Matthews. Frank, a retired near-professional tennis player with a psychology degree, embarks on writing a self-help book, while his wife throws her energy into the interior design of the home, and gay, haughty Christopher, home from a year abroad, watches his parents with artistic, youthful derision. The dynamic characters will satisfy many tastes, and it’s with a writerly sleight-of-hand that the peculiar humor and quirky truths of family, friendship, and love are revealed. (Mar.)
What a joy to be with the Widdicombes! As funny and charming as a summer party you never want to end.”— Andrew Sean Greer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Less
“Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe is shrewd as hell and hysterically funny. A summer novel, a comedy of manners, a razor-sharp satire of the idle rich...there’s so much unbridled pleasure to be found in this rogue’s gallery of new-age self-help gurus, aspiring screenwriters, bird-watching party-planning social climbers, lovesick assistants, despondent patriarchs, ne’er-do-well houseguests, indolent watercolorists, and loveably loathsome cads of all kinds.”— Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties
“An assured, big-hearted debut, as tender as it is hilarious. Evan James's wry intelligence and sense of the absurd are an absolute delight.”— R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries
“Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe had me smiling from the very first page, and long after I put it down. Evan James writes dysfunctional characters with more wit, compassion, and heart than any writer I’ve come across in a long time. This is an enormously satisfying debut.”— Grant Ginder, author of The People We Hate at the Wedding
"James’s debut novel—a comedy of manners about the banes of upper-middle-class characters—bubbles with self-realizations, love in the patois of addiction speak, incipient love that could bridge oceans and a self-help expo keynote address imploring the freeing of our inherent wildness." —The New York Times Book Review
“Spend a head-spinning summer with the Widdicombes and their entourage in James’ gleefully over-the-top satiric debut.”— Kirkus Reviews
“An absurd and hilarious satire full of unlikely characters who are all wildly introspective, dysfunctional, and prone to New Age philosophizing." —Library Journal
“James’s debut blends saucy wit with a fresh voice. . . . The dynamic characters will satisfy many tastes, and it’s with a writerly sleight-of-hand that the peculiar humor and quirky truths of family, friendship, and love are revealed.”— Publishers Weekly
"[A] mordant comedy of manners . . . James is a fine writer, and his narrator maintains a consistent, ironically self-serious tone, skewering contemporary mindfulness culture and the pursuits of those with time, money, or both to burn." —Booklist
"We know how this one tends to go: a big summer family gathering, filled with dysfunction and secret-spilling and absurd misunderstandings. Fingers crossed that first-time novelist James can put his own quirky stamp on the subgenre." —Entertainment Weekly
"I can’t think of a writer better equipped to write a contemporary comedy of manners." —Literary Hub
"Oh look, it's the perfect book. Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe is a hilarious and witty joy of a novel about a family's insanely dramatic summer at their new island home. It's LOL levels of funny, each sentence is quote-worthy, and it's also pretty heartwarming. The only bad news is that it goes by way too fast." —Cosmopolitan
“It’s a comedy of Northwest manners, as if Where’d You Go, Bernadette? had been written after a long alcoholic weekend, an exquisite corpse cobbled together by a raucous, sophisticated group of writing instructors....As the members of the Family Widdicombe spin off in their own directions, the people around them are spinning toward one another in different combinations. Their machinations are the point of this debut novel, as frothy and bitter as a pot of freshly brewed dark-roast coffee, the kind that’s always available on the Widdicombe’s sideboard. And the dialogue, oh how it singes and sears!...James is a writer to watch, one with a fresh take on American flaws and virtues that nevertheless feels old-school screwball.” —Bethanne Patrick, Washington Post
“Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe is rather like a PG Wodehouse novel, updated with sex and profanity: throw a bunch of wealthy, eccentric people in a country house for a period of time and see what happens. In this, his first novel, Evan James expertly unfolds hopes, dreams and neuroses, managing to gently skewer his characters’ foibles while revealing their humanity... The book is a deliciously funny personality stew, and James deftly guides us from one character’s head to another as they maneuver their way through a madcap summer—one that you, dear reader, should definitely share.” —Eileen Zimmerman Nicol, Bookreporter.com
“Funny and beautifully written, this family saga set on Bainbridge Island in the Pacific Northwest is an escape to end all escapes. There’s tennis, there’s novel-writing, there’s the wild outdoors, and there’s much-discussed decorating indoors. The Widdicombe family has much to discuss in general—they are a mass of contradictions and contrasting agendas that intersect in brilliant ways—and the dialogue is just so good. It’s one of those books you hoard time with, and you float around in its atmosphere even when you’re not reading it. I hate that it ended—I loved being in it so much!” —Jean Godfrey-June, executive beauty director at goop
The Widdicombes work through a family epidemic of almost life-threatening anomie in their elaborate summer house on Bainbridge Island.
Spend a head-spinning summer with the Widdicombes and their entourage in James' gleefully over-the-top satiric debut. Carol, the lady of the house, is set on becoming a New Age Mrs. Ramsay, hosting artists and writers in the mansion she is redecorating in a "bohemian Paris meets California cool meets Pacific Northwest Casual" style, angling for a feature in a décor magazine, winning instead comparisons to a "hotel waiting room…in Liberace's cerebral cortex." Her design process relies on the principles of her New Age guru and houseguest, Gracie Sloane. "Source Energy requires imagistic fuel to do the daily work of manifesting….It is to this end we pin our hopes and dreams to our Vision Boards." Gracie is holed up at the Widdicombes' palazzo to work on The Habit of Wildness, a book that recommends "feral romping" and "whimsical savagery." The Widdicombe patriarch is a foulmouthed former tennis pro with so little to occupy his time he is nearly suicidal, until he mines his predicament for a self-help book of his own. Son Christopher, home from Rhode Island School of Design for the summer, is suffering even more deeply than his parents as his parody landscapes turn out to be actually gorgeous, and his cruel performance piece, "Son," results in unprecedented familial closeness. As their personal assistant, Michelle, puts it, "When all the Widdicombes were in one room, united in antic chatter, [it's] as though they were playing out scenes from an old screwball comedy." Contributing to this effect are another houseguest, a drunk, pill-popping lout who pretends to be a screenwriter, and their gardener, Marvelous Matthews. The latter is a longtime disciple of Gracie Sloane who is about to see his own Vision Board really come through.
Never a dull moment.
DEBUT Frank Widdicombe appears to be depressed. His wife, Carol, has made every effort to turn their elegant summer home into a showplace and enticing refuge. She thinks maybe raising a flock of chickens and growing some heirloom vegetables will help Frank cheer up. To that end, she hires a gardener. He and Frank hit it off and become friends. Carol also invites self-help guru Gracie to visit while working on her newest book in the hopes she will influence Frank for the better. Gracie and the gardener meet and soon become more than friends. Widdicombe son Christopher is home from art school for the summer and spends his days scheming to get away from his family, but everything he tries draws him closer to them. The family's secretary/administrative assistant Michelle keeps the household organized, but her attempt to connect with yet another house guest ends in heartbreak. The chickens never materialize, but there is a family of otters living under the deck. VERDICT First novelist James boasts numerous literary honors, here delivering an absurd and hilarious satire full of unlikely characters who are all wildly introspective, dysfunctional, and prone to New Age philosophizing. [See Prepub Alert, 9/24/18.]—Joanna Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Providence