Good Behavior, by Molly KEane

Hello friends! Writing is going extremely well. I have no reason for complaining, but I will anyway: I’ve found it a little difficult lately to concentrate on my reading. Not sure what’s up with that! It’s not the pandemic or having a baby, because I’ve done a fair amount of reading over the past year, and as recently as a month or two I was tearing through books. It’s just a kind of reading ennui: I’m bored with simple / formulaic / comfort reading, but don’t have the concentration to read books that are more complex. WOE IS ME.

I am the NYRB book club, because I love clutter and hate order, and I actually picked up this month’s selection: Good Behavior has a classic domestic novel premise–the failing fortunes of a family of minor gentry (in this case, part of the Anglo-Irish gentry in Ireland around WWI). The main character, Aroon, is repressed and deceitful–she’s certainly an unreliable narrator–as she relates the story of her upbringing, her dad’s various ‘friendships’ with other women, her mom’s efforts to corral him, and his eventual death from…unclear but potentially handjob-related causes. I think the genius of the book comes from the implication that Aroon’s evasions are both conscious and unconscious. On some level, she does know the truth, but she suppresses that knowledge. It’s like someone who, for instance, is totally gung-ho about the company they work for, but knows on some level that their work is meaningless, if not actively evil. Or someone who thinks COVID is an overblown hoax–nothing more than a typical flu–but also thinks it was manufactured in a laboratory in Wuhan. Life is full of this kind of doublethink: there are so many times when you need to believe something that happens to be untrue.

Anyway it’s the first novel I’ve read (like, with my eyes, as opposed to my ears) in a few months, and probably the first print novel I’ve read in…a year or so? At least. It was highly pleasant to pick up a book I knew nothing about and just be like, hmm, I wonder what’s going to happen–I wonder what’s going on in this book? The first forty pages seem like they might be a little dull, but a lot more is going on than you think. It’s a great performance: glad the NYRB reissued it!

Have been gossipping up a storm with other writers ever since the Cynical Guide came out. I love hearing other peoples’ failures, their observations, and their encounters with the weirdness of publishing. Each anecdote makes me stronger, fills me with more uncorroborated but utterly believable information. It is my happy place. If you haven’t, think about picking up a copy of the cynical guide today! In addition to the sample chapters you can preview, it’s also picked up a bunch of reviews, so you don’t need to take my own word that the book is good.

Good Behaviour