Reviews

The Land of Steady Habits by Ted Thompson

I was trying to find a suitable way to review a book that made me want to find the bottom of the nearest bottle of wine while simultaneously quoting Bob Dylan (as I’m wont to do when feeling maudlin), I came up with two approaches. I’ll let you be the judge.

Steady Habits

Approach one, short and sweet:

Soul-crushing.

Ted Thompson’s novel, The Land of Steady Habits, is just that. Please excuse me while I go recover. With wine. 4/5, a remarkable debut.

OR Approach two, Bob Dylan:

“Shame on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes / I’ll say this, I don’t give a damn about your dreams”

The Land of Steady Habits is an unflinching and unbearably sad portrait of American suburban wealth. This does not mean it’s without humor or that it’s not very good, because it’s both. Anders is in his sixties and realizing that the planned life he tried to escape from is exactly what he got. Appalled by the greed he’s seen within his job in the financial industry, he decides to change his life. “Change his life” is quite possibly a euphemism for an existential midlife crisis (twenty years late). He divorces his wife, buys a condo and begins again. The ease with which is wife recovers vaguely frightens him – she moves her new lover (and his old college roommate) into their house quickly. And so begins his downward spiral…

The divorced family drama – and its effects – featured in this remarkable debut novel cover no new literary ground, but the sharp writing and the pitch perfect dialogue is refreshing. The characters are not likable, but they are not meant to be. What they are is relatable. Even though the story takes place in the wealthy suburbs of Connecticut, where pristine suburbs and affluence cultivate a land of steady habits, the characters are fully realized and humanized. Thompson is obviously a gifted writer and he offers a compelling dissection of American wealth gone wrong. Thankfully falling somewhere north of the devastatingly depressing Richard Yates and just south of the darkly comic Tom Perrotta, The Land of Steady Habits is an excellent modern novel of suburban angst. It also serves as a reminder: that the life you run from might be the best you’re ever going to get – it can always, always get worse. 4/5.

“Gonna make a lot of money, gonna go up north / I’ll plant and I’ll harvest what the earth brings forth / The hammer’s on the table, the pitchfork’s on the shelf / For the love of God, you ought to take pity on yourself”

What do you do after a bitterly depressing read? Also, approach one or approach two? Either way, have a drink. It’s what the characters in the novel would do (and did, repeatedly). I want this one, Toasted Coconut ROOT Beer Float, it looks amazing. AMAZING. Seriously, it’s a work of art.

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  • http://annabelsmith.tumblr.com/ Annabel Smith

    Soul crushing? Excuse me if I don’t partake.

    • http://fourthstreetreview.com/ Rory

      It’s not bad, scary, or dark, I just always find tales of American suburbia gone miserably wrong too depressing (hits too close to home, perhaps?). If you like Cheever, Updike, Yates, or Perrotta, it may be worth a shot – the writing is good.

    • http://booksaremyfavouriteandbest.wordpress.com Kate @ booksaremyfavouriteandbest

      And I’m the complete opposite! Sign me up.

      • http://fourthstreetreview.com/ Rory

        I’m confident you’ll like it.

  • http://www.rivercityreading.com Shannon @ River City Reading

    Somewhere between Yates and Perotta is such a PERFECT place to put this book. I was totally blown away by the writing, too, and can’t wait to read more from Thompson.

    • http://fourthstreetreview.com/ Rory

      Although it sometimes gets (undue) criticism, I’ve been very impressed by every single book I’ve read (save one) from and Iowa Writers Workshop graduate.

  • http://booksspeakvolumes.com Leah @ Books Speak Volumes

    I’ve been really curious about this book, so thanks for your review! I don’t think I’m in the mood for something so dark right now, but your comparison to Tom Perotta definitely makes me think I should read it at some point! Sounds like a fantastic debut.

    • http://fourthstreetreview.com/ Rory

      The dark bits are balanced out by the humor, but I think ultimately it is a depressing book. As someone who lives in a wealthy American suburb some of it was just too (depressingly) true.

  • http://www.livingawritinglife.blogspot.com Jennine G.

    This is the first I’ve seen this book, but the title itself leads me down so many paths of thought. Good review!

    • http://fourthstreetreview.com/ Rory

      Thanks, I loved the title too and that a book about a man’s existential crisis had a pink cover.

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