A novel about supermarkets and democracy.
Brothers Ray and Patrick Markham live in Pennacook, Massachusetts, a despairing former mill town plagued by feral boars. It’s the type of place where streets are named for scoundrel governors and lesser Monopoly properties, where even Dr. Chong, the high-school principal, can’t bear to mingle with the locals in her free time.
Ray serves as Patrick’s legal guardian. He spends his days on the Bounty Bag deli line, making a mean meatball sandwich, critiquing Muscles Carbonara’s obscenely suggestive deal flyers, and studiously ducking any thought of his future. But Ray’s tick-like comfort in the static here and now is wildly disrupted when Patrick runs away and a greedy board of directors fires Angie Martini, Bounty Bag’s great-hearted CEO, turning Bounty Bag upside down with worker protests.
Dr. Chong has troubles of her own. She’s on a longshot campaign for a tax-cap override to fund a less-carcinogenic building for Andrew Johnson Memorial High School. But as Election Day nears, the meltdown at Bounty Bag threatens to gut her already shoestring tax base.
Patrick, meanwhile, has fallen into a scam targeting Ray’s own deli. Things look bleak—until he lucks into the classroom of the dying Mr. Grant, whose demanding history class gets him thinking more deeply, about Pennacook, Bounty Bag, and his own past and future.
Giroux’s witty writing enhances the cast of quirky characters, including deli manager Toothless Mary and a debauched coworker known as the Alfredo. He draws on his experience working in a deli to detail the inner workings of a grocery store and the hierarchy among the employees, and his work as an attorney for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission adds insight to his depiction of Bounty Bag management’s strategic attempts to retain their positions.
The fast-paced narrative includes witty descriptions of the town of Pennacook (“a kind of Brigadoon with malaise”) and its residents’ relationships and foibles. The element of humor is a welcome counterpoint to a character’s tragic death and Patrick’s often self-destructive behavior. With a steady authorial hand and dryly funny narration, Giroux crafts a memorable setting for this poignant story of people awkwardly trying to improve their ordinary lives.
Takeaway: This dryly funny, engaging novel will appeal to fans of small-town stories full of quirky characters.
Great for fans of Emma Straub’s All Adults Here, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B-