Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Good Guy by Susan Beale

The good guy of the title is Ted McDougall, a tyre salesman with heaps of potential, married to Abigail, his high-school sweetheart. They live with their baby daughter in a new subdivision on the outskirts of Boston and everything should be rosy, but somehow it isn’t. Ted does his best to please, that’s how he makes those killer sales targets after all, but somehow Abigail isn’t quite happy.

When Ted meets Penny, a secretary with an eye for fashion, the two create a picture on the dance floor. Penny is desperate to be loved and allows herself to be romanced by Ted, and so begins a sorry tale of deception. The bulk of the novel focuses on Ted’s desperate attempts to keep the two women of his life happy and separate, which powers the story along.

While you can’t help turning the pages to see what happens, Beale brilliantly creates an atmosphere of 1960s suburbia and the post-war boom around consumerism. You can only sympathise with housewives like Abigail, giving up on their education while their brains turn to mush, and it is great to see her flower when she returns to university to study American history. The impression she makes on her young history lecturer adds another tangled thread to the plot.

The Good Guy is a terrific first novel, with characters that are flawed but also likeable, each facing dilemmas that are poignant and complex, and this makes them very real. Beale has dug deep into her own family history in the writing of this book, and I hope she has a few more novels up her sleeve, as she is a gifted story-teller. The Good Guy is currently shortlisted for a Costa First Novel Award.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Good Guy

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