The Comedown is an impressive opening salvo from a clear talent working in a post-Franzen method of exploring familial dynamics.
Any time a novel begins with a detailed genealogical chart concerning the forthcoming characters through several generations, you know you’re going to be flipping back to the front fairly constantly to keep who-belongs-to-whom straight. Such is the case with Rebekah Frumkin’s The Comedown, a sprawling, multigenerational examination of interwoven lives, with each life largely failing to live up to the individual’s potential, leaving behind a rather frustrating personal legacy that is more times than not in conflict with the perceptions of those around the central characters.
Take, for instance, Leland Abdiel Bloom-Mittwoch Sr., to whom we are introduced in the few moments before his rather spectacular suicide in 1999. As one of the narrative’s main focal points, Leland traipses in and out of the multiple storylines, more often than not as a sort of oblivious rube. He perceives his one-time drug dealer, Reggie Marshall, as his closest, most personal friend. When we get to Reggie’s side of the story, we learn he cannot stand Leland. In fact, he sees him more honestly and clearly than almost anyone else, it seems. Street-smart and quick on his feet, Reggie is a classic late-‘60s/early-‘70s drug dealer archetype who suffers the foolishness of his clients simply as a means to an end. It’s this general disposition that leads Leland to believe Reggie sees him not as the strung-out junkie he is, but something more, something akin to a friend. When Reggie is subsequently murdered, Leland shoulders the entire burden of responsibility, the act casting an impossibly long shadow over not only the remainder of Leland’s life, but also the lives of the families of both men.
This quick summary fails to take in the sprawling scope of Frumkin’s ambitious first novel. Moving through the family lines—from fathers to sons, former wives and lovers—she creates vivid characterizations that, when placed with such historical contexts as the Kent State Massacre and protest marches in Chicago, bring each character that much more to life. An American novel in the truest sense, The Comedown spans much of the country and prominently features several of the defining events of the last half century.
In Melinda Bloom-Mittwoch (nee Provouchez), ex-wife of Leland Sr. and mother to the troubled Leland Jr., we are presented with a Midwest in the midst of monumental changes. Beginning with her youthful rebellion in Ohio—her remarks on her mother’s expanding waistline are particularly cutting, though her eventual slide into obesity proves a fitting comeuppance—Frumkin quickly moves us through to the time surrounding the infamous May 1970 violence at Kent State University. Then, just as quickly, we’re a decade past Leland Sr.’s suicide and thrown into the lingering aftereffects of one of the two deaths that set the whole mess of the novel into motion.
Ambitious in scope and equal parts entertaining and achingly realistic in its portrayal of human fallibility, The Comedown is an impressive opening salvo from a clear talent working in a post-Franzen method of exploring familial dynamics and the impact the choices we make have on those who come after us. The Comedown, much like The Corrections, could not have been granted a more appropriate title.