This fine novel is about five couples, each dysfunctional in some way, and their children, all alienated in different ways. The central figure is Frederick Breathwaite. Fred is the husband of the lovely and loving Kirsten and the father of Jes, a rebellious and intellectual twenty-two year old who rejects his father’s values and refuses to enter the corporate world. A learned man and a connoisseur of fine whiskies and cigars, Fred works at the Tank, a business run by Martin Kampman, a corporate hatchet man. Fred is like the author, an American living in Copenhagen and fluent in Danish. He is in his late fifties, beginning to experience potency problems, loses his highly remunerative job, and seeks to salvage something by securing a job for his son, Jes, even though Jes will probably never enter the corporate world.
Martin Kampman is married to Karen and the father of three. Kampman is a bit of a monster, who just misses being a caricature of the evil man. He is without pity, for himself or others, incredibly self-disciplined, ambitious for himself and his son, Adam, duplicitous, vengeful and completely unscrupulous. Like Fred Breathwaite’s son, Jes, Martin Kampman’s son, Adam, rejects his father’s world, and runs away, hiding out with Jes and Jytte, the Kampman’s seventeen-year-old au pair, while Martin plots ways of forcing Adam back onto the path he has laid out for the boy, even if it means framing Jytte.
Harald Jaeger also works at the Tank. Martin Kampman gives him Fred Breathwaite’s responsibilities and salary, briefly, and then takes them away when his purpose has been served. Harald is divorced from Vita, and though something of a playboy, he dearly loves his two young daughters. When his promotion is taken from him and Vita accuses him of indecency with the little girls, he meets Tatyana, a razor thin Polish woman who becomes his mistress.
Brigitte Sommer, head of finance at the tank, is married to Lars, but they have no children, though by the end of the book Brigitte is pregnant. Lars is a nose-picker, who seems to have lost interest in Brigitte, who is a beautiful and passionate woman, who takes up with Harald Jaeger for a while, but ultimately returns to Lars.
To round out the cast, there is Jalâl al-Din. Jalâl is a Pakistani immigrant, the owner of the Dome of the Rock Key and Heel Bar, where he employs Jes Breathwaite. Jalâl is married to Khadiya and is the father of Zaid, a teenager as alienated from him as Jes Breathwaite is from Fred and Adam Kampman is from Martin.
In the end, Jes accidentally alienates Jalâl, a man he loves even though he makes fun of him to his friends, Karen Kampman finally realizes the sort of man her husband is, and Fred Breathwaite is saved from despair by Kirsten’s love for him.
Like the other books in this series, a series Kennedy calls the Copenhagen Quartet, this one is marvelously well-written. His clean and crackling sentences and his instinct for the telling detail make the book a joy to read. Furthermore, Kennedy, an acolyte of Rilke and Joyce provides insights into minds, motivations and feelings that simply stun the reader. Kennedy is a master of his craft, his books are highly recommended.