Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Wentworths by Katie Arnoldi

So, when Elle sent me books to review, I thought, hey, I can review these for my blog, too. My best intentions went sort of awry because this is the only one that I managed to write a full review of at the time, and ironically, it's the one that I liked the least. One of the others, Alex Witchel's The Spare Wife didn't inspire enough of a reaction in me to even attempt a review, not to mention trying to summarize the plot with its many characters would have been an incredible feat. It was entertaining while I was reading it, but really nothing to write home about. The other, Willing by Scott Spencer, whose ARC contained not a single quotation mark which I ranted about in an earlier blog post, I hope to still write about in some capacity in the nearish future as it was a strange but oddly compelling story and the one I voted my favorite for Elle. So, without further ado, and written in the belief that other people might (and often do) like books that I don't, I present, the one review.

With The Wentworths Katie Arnoldi has penned a vicious satire of the upper class. Dysfunctional barely begins to describe the Wentworth family. August, the patriarch, has barely been faithful to his wife for a moment in their lengthy marriage. Judith, however, is so caught up with the myriad of beautiful things and the power over a small army of maids she has accumulated as a result of her marriage to August that she couldn't care less where August chooses to spend his time. Their three children are even more twisted than their parents. Conrad is an expensive lawyer whose wildly sadistic side is revealed early in his life. Their one daughter, Becky, after being stung by a comment made by her father during her youth is obsessed with controlling her weight leaving little time for her meek husband, Paul, and her two children Monica (a drug addict) and Joey (a shameless kleptomaniac). Finally, there is gay Norman, who by his mid-thirties has failed to so much as move from his parents' guest house but, for the most part, is too stoned to care.

Throughout the novel, Arnoldi makes this elite family downright laughable by revealing their problems and insecurities while at the same time using everyday occurrences to showcase their ridiculous responses to the mundane. Judith's quest to recover a set of missing sugar tongs spotlights the Wenthworths' pure inanity. She grills each family member about the whereabouts of the tongs while the many real problems this family faces have a blind eye turned to them. Arnoldi brilliantly renders this family's inability to deal with its many problems, and even more so, its unwillingness to even admit that there are problems at all.

Though it seems that Arnoldi succeeds admirably in what I imagine to be her quest to satirize the type of people who quite literally have more money than they know what to do with, this book was nonetheless a difficult read. Short, sometimes wittily named chapters contain the astonishing, twisted, and often very explicit foibles of the family members. While I don't consider myself to be too faint of heart, I found myself agape at many of the events taking place in the pages of this book. As a result, I found The Wenthworths to be all too easy to put down making a lengthy read out of a very short book. While I can appreciate Arnoldi's message, such as it is, her means of revealing it in this novel was almost more than I could take.

Release Date: March 13, 2008.


  1. Can't see myself picking this one up, but you certainly are gifted in the art of review writing!

  2. It sounds in a way like it would have made a better short piece. Think so?

  3. Thanks, Debi!

    Dewey - This is funny because my uh...snarky voice piped up with something to the effect of "Huh. Yeah, the shorter the better." But my more rational half gave your comment some actual thought and determined that yes, indeed, it might make a better short piece. With less time to dedicate to Norman's disturbing fantasties, Conrad's disturbing life, and Becky's bizarre brand of idiocy (all of which were a bit too explicit or bizarre to elicit any response but uncomfortable squirming on my part) and maybe more of a spotlight on the sugar tong incident which put a bright light on the irony of everything having to do with this family it might have made a decent short piece.

  4. Maybe I liked this book because I live down the street form these kinds of people, but I don't think you've given Katie Arnoldi enough credit for the mastery of her craft. The book really is a short piece, succinctly told, witty, insightful, and original in style. I do think the story line, as such, is weak--the ending murder almost gratuitous--but this isn't so much a story as it is social commentary. She needed the time it took to bring out the details of her characters in a meaningful way. though I can understand how it brings out the squeamishness in some readers, the vulgarity here is as appropriate to the subject matter as it was in her first novel, Chemical Pink. Still, I'm glad you did take the time to give it a review. Just my 2¢