The Antiques by Kris D'Agostino, review by Bruce Jacobs
The drama of momentous family gatherings is such a familiar trope that it could be its own fictional subgenre. When the family is a collection of oddballs, drunks and squabbling siblings, the drama often finds its way into film or onto stage--either as comedy like The Royal Tenenbaums or as dark spiteful misanthropy like August: Osage County. A film school dropout and one-time screenwriter, Kris D'Agostino (The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac) writes with the scene-changing zip and dialogue-laden narrative of the movies. The Westfall family in The Antiques is headed by Ana and her dying husband, George, owners of an antique shop in a gentrifying upstate Hudson River village. Their oldest son, Josef, is a hotshot, sex-addicted entrepreneur in Manhattan, desperate to sell his precarious company to cover his debts, pay support to his ex-wife and teen daughters, and avoid having to take a job "back schlepping around some soul-draining hedge fund."
Charlotte ("Charlie") lives in Los Angeles with a disappointing adjunct film professor and their toddler son, Abbott ("Her special little guy. Her cracked, beautiful dumpling. Splattered all over the spectrum like a Jackson Pollock"). Charlie works as a handler for a Paris Hilton-like actress in a string of vampire movies--"Policing YouTube videos.... Making sure Melody always wore pantieswhen she went out... fielding Melody's drunken texts and quelling emotional meltdowns."
The youngest Westfall, Armand ("Armie"), lives in his parents' basement and crafts wood furniture, moping after a sweet young woman from his mother's church, and according to Ana, barely subsisting "unmarried, unfocused, demoralized, penniless." The siblings rarely talk; George and Ana resignedly live with each other's idiosyncrasies; their dog, Shadow, is on his last legs; and a hurricane is bearing down on the East Coast and Manhattan. Should the storm destroy their store's inventory, all George has to leave his family is his prized "lesser Magritte" hanging over their fireplace--appraised once for insurance purposes at a half million dollars.
The Antiques takes place over one week as the hurricane strikes, George dies and the Westfall children return home to sort out how to honor the life of a man who was a distant and difficult father. Unlike Ana, George wanted nothing to do with a church funeral mass, traditional burial or wake. Liquor flows, the siblings argue, Abbott throws tantrums, movie star Melody is on the run from her abusive ex-husband, Josef's daughters go ga-ga over her, Shadow can barely wag his tail at it all, and the Magritte family jewel upends George's well-intended estate plans. The Antiques is an often funny, often poignant portrait of a quirky family on the skids--but as Ana reflects: "Nobody ever said, 'Here's your family. What do you think?' You just got them. Or you didn't get them."
Bruce Jacobs's review first appeared in Shelf Awareness.