Remember when "anomie" - an aimless, isolated, amoral state of being - was the big sociological buzzword? Barbara Abercrombie revives and dramatizes that concept here, introducing us to Alix Kirkwood, newly divorced from a husband who says things like, "Lower your voice," and who "seemed to have adjusted more easily to divorce than to the loss of his Mercedes."
Alix, 36, is bright and funny and likeable. But no matter. In a world of women trained to please their men, whe is without a man and therefore without purpose. It doesn't help when she visits her mother, who consoles her with, "You are not ill equipped for life, Alix You are wonderfully equipped to be a wife...." Alix is in limbo, her days "defined only by sunrise and sunset; and the fact that on Saturdays Juanita cleaned, Thursdays the pool was cleaned, and the gardener came on Friday. House. Pool. Yard. Her life."
Then something happens. And the black comedy that is "Good Riddance" gets fully underway.
Alix is invited to a neighbor's dinner party ("I have a man for you!"), and there he is, Warren Sullivan, off-season tan and all. She's too perceptive to fall for him ("The thought of a grown man standing in a bathroom under a sun lamp in order to look younger and more attractive made her feel so depressed she was afraid she might cry"). But she is also too passive, too polite.
("His hand was on her thigh, nothing overtly aggressive, just a rather pale, heavy hand on her thigh. She stared at it as though it were a separate object, an ashtray or a book someone had misplaced, and wondered what would be the most graceful way to dispose of it. Finally she patted it and rose.")
Warren Sullivan walks her to her door, weasels his way into her home. And when she resists his advances, he strikes her, tears her clothes, rapes her and leaves.
The decision which follows is Alix's making (her eventual undoing, too, but so what?): She will kill Warren Sullivan.
So far so good. We are totally on her side. We are delighted to see the New! Improved! way a committed Alix is able to deal with people and with circumstance. We chuckle as she wheels her cart down the supermarket aisle, stocking up on Clorox and toilet paper and fresh fruit and pondering, all the while, how to dispose of Sullivan's body. We are still rooting for her when Sullivan later comments on the rape, "You wanted it." In fact, we can't wait to have Alix pull that trigger.
But "Good Riddance" risks plenty here and almost loses. Warren Sullivan's moment of knowing he will pay for his crime is too short, so we don't get any sense of real comeuppance. Similarly, the murder is so bloody and the immediate aftermath so bizarre, the comedic aspect is loslos t. We become uneasy about the bond we have built with Alix Kirkwood, and only barely hang in there with her through the post-murder pages.
We do hang in, though, and that is because Barbara Abercrombie has made us care about Alix so much. And by the time Alix says, "Ciao, Warren," and dumps his remains - some 30 pages later - Abercrombie has us and her book fully in hand again, resuming what is a fine sense of timing and detail.
But make no mistake. "Good Riddance" is funny, yes, but it is not merely funny. It deals honestly - through its characters and plot - with vital women's issues. "Good Riddance" is always a novel, never an essay.