A truly awesome book takes the reader by surprise, and you never see it coming. There are exceptions, The Goldfinch, The Corrections, and I am sure there are others. Terms & Conditions is an in your face blizzard of short chapters told from the point of view of a man who has lost his memory, but not his sense of humor. It is a voice that is both plain and tattered, but listen carefully and you will hear dismay, as his circumstances are less than ideal.
It is improbable to this reader that a man who works for an insurance company would be appealing to even the mother of an insurance salesman. Frank comes home from the hospital with only part of his memory intact, then stumbles upon a novel written by his wife called Executive X, which begins a trigger effect of his memories, the big ones. Then he has sex with his wife, and admires her tautly vibrant body.
It is a heady first few pages, and lapel grabbing for sure. The novel his wife has written is about him, a thinly veiled version of his former self, and it is a bestseller. This is where I smelled a little Zoe Heller, and her masterpiece, Everything You Know, which is the best possible compliment I could ever pay any writer.
You can’t help but like Frank. His brother Oscar is a douchebag, and their brother Malcolm is only seen in emails, but a certain childhood event makes Malcolm out to be larger than life. Frank works for the family firm which is run by Oscar who is hell bent on doing whatever it takes to make as much money as he can. Except he runs the firm like a shitfaced fifteen-year-old eager to drive in the middle of the night, with his eyes closed. You won’t like Oscar. It is very clear from the start that he is a loathsome man, and Glancy takes great pride in roasting this pig on a spit. Frank does like his brother Malcolm, and like “Red” in Shawshank Redemption you will like him too. Alice, Frank’s skid mark of a wife is petty and carved from cliché, which is totally fine because there is no reason to like her. She can’t live without her phone, uses sex as a weapon, and even finds a way to insult her own parents at every opportunity. It’s easy when you are told just the bad stuff, but he did like something about her at some point, they did get married! You hear the genesis story of Frank and Alice and it seems almost ideal, almost. Frank is honest, he hasn’t always seen himself as a good man, but now that his memory is gone he is trying to change his ways. This novel makes great use of his past and as his memory grows it all becomes scathing humor*.
I was totally crushed by page 142 of this novel, and suggest you not turn there right away, but let me just say that most of the things in life that you don’t do, or do, and regret, are summed up on this page. Big men crush little men, and when is there enough time? I especially found this page to be a reminder of the things we always say we’re going to do, but don’t, and then sum up on a page like this, in a novel that we will someday write, or wish we did. Over the course of this slippery story we see how Frank is going to become a better person by ruining Oscar and his family. Then Glancy reveals the gem of this story, a guy named Doug, a Zen-ish in-house actuary who figures it all out, and doesn’t for one second forget that the devil really is in the details, as the cliché goes.
*Actually, the devil is in the footnotes of this book, and he’s a funny bastard.