Friday, February 01, 2008

The Seduction of Words: Don Capone’s Into the Sunset

Don Capone’s Into the Sunset is entertaining comedy at its best. Even the madcap premise makes you laugh. Thirty-year-old Wayne Benson is tired of his stressed-out New York City life, so he ages himself with a wig and theatrical make-up and moves into a retirement community in Westchester to enjoy the easy life. Of course, he still has to commute into the city to work as a journalist at Silver Citizen magazine, but his new living situation only serves as a valuable source of stories for his work—at first. Soon enough the complications set in: a romantic relationship with a lovely widow, the suspicious glances of the security guards and administrators, a growing realization that adding forty years from a jar is a lot more work than he bargained for. Hey, I’m not going to give the plot away, but although it’s a bumpy ride for Wayne, the pages seemed to glide right by as I followed him on his adventure into premature maturity.

Reading as a writer—and I always do—I admired Capone’s plot, which is Chekhovian in its design. Each puzzle piece fits together perfectly by the novel’s end and I know that’s almost as hard to pull off as pretending to be old! I was even more impressed--or perhaps I should say, beguiled?--by the narrator. Wayne is, from an objective standpoint, a bit of a Peter Pan, not to mention a man who’s comfortable with living a rather significant lie. Ironically, his voice is refreshingly honest. I felt I was getting a glimpse into a real man’s view of sex, relationships, and the meaning of life. No doubt the humor and down-to-earth quality of the voice made for this immediate intimacy. I was reminded just a bit of the most compelling section of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity where the protagonist relates his sexual and romantic history (fortunately Capone spares us Hornby’s name-dropping and relentless pursuit of faux “cool”) which also gave me a fascinating glimpse into the minds of those unfathomable creatures called guys.

A clever plot and a likeable narrator make Into the Sunset a perfect subject for the “writing” part of my blog. But the novel has plenty of food and sex, too. For Wayne one of the big draws of The Sunset are the three delicious meals a day, lovingly prepared by a “Dutch gentleman named Jan” and served either in dining room or delivered to one’s apartment. I came to anticipate the daily menus as much as he did—how I’d love to try a piece of the carrot cake and maybe just a taste of Lemon Zinger cake, too! There’s a sweet romantic scene involving ice cream cones which was so vivid, it took me right back to the days when I used to visit my college boyfriend in his hometown of Katonah. He was an awful boyfriend, but there was a nice ice cream parlor he’d take me to now and then that sounded just like the one in the novel…but I digress.

It’s time to move on to the sex. Wayne’s sexual desires play a big part in the story, which probably has a lot to do with why I liked it. The flashbacks to bedroom scenes with his ex-girlfriend Cindy are especially entertaining. My favorite is when Cindy wakes up mad because she had a dream that Wayne was flirting with someone else. Wayne’s efforts to sweet-talk her into a good mood—he of course has woken up with a boner he’d like to use—had me laughing. There’s also a flirtation with a hot number named Kim and a fling with Cindy’s roommate, all spicy enough to put you in the mood if you’re so inclined, but not explicit enough to be erotica per se.

But there is a controversial love interest at the heart of the story—Wayne’s involvement with sixty-four year old Eleanor, another resident at The Sunset. I’ll admit when I first read about the much-older-woman-younger-man relationship on the cover blurb, I thought of Harold and Maude—who wouldn’t? But there’s really no comparison at all. Eleanor is presented as youthful, genuinely attractive, and very comfortable with her sexuality. I know from my own mother, that women in their sixties can be lovely, radiantly sexual and happily involved with younger men (her boyfriend was only four years younger, but still). Rather than being a turn-off or a joke, the relationship with Eleanor is ultimately moving and thought-provoking for the reader as well as the narrator. I found myself thinking a lot about aging and sex and the real meaning of maturity. When you’re older, sex is more than hormones and smooth flesh (except of course for old geezers like Rupert Murdoch who marry babes half their age). It’s about connecting with another human being for who they are inside, which didn’t strike me as the main motivation for most people back when I was on the dating scene. By the novel’s end, I get the feeling Wayne would definitely agree with me.

One of my favorite erotic scenes in the book is when Wayne and Eleanor get into his “new” car, a clunker with broken air-conditioning, for their first real date outside of the retirement community:

“She swept her long hair up into a bun on top of her head and pinned it tight. One long strand escaped, and my eyes followed it down the nape of her neck to her bare shoulder. Her neck was soft and white and vulnerable. Her ear looked delicious. I wanted to put whip cream on it and lick it off. I considered inviting her to try out the backseat like a couple of randy teenagers. I’d get on top and slide her dress up and remove her panties with my teeth. Or she could be on top and I would cup her breasts after freeing them from the cotton and lycra that imprisoned them. Between the hot vinyl seats, the blaring August sun, and the heat generated by our naked thrusting bodies, the Corolla would be as hot and humid as a Costa Rican rain forest. We would create our own little green-house effect. Mushrooms would sprout from the carpet. The windows would fog as the car rocked back and forth, straining its old suspension system. Afterward, a sudden thunderstorm within the interior of the car would cool our steaming naked bodies, as we lay there spent.”

Does it get any steamier than that?

Now that I’m a published novelist myself, my idea of what constitutes high praise for a book has changed radically. Back in my college days, the compliment I hoped to earn for my yet-to-be-written novel would have been something like: “this is a timeless classic comparable to Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf.” Now, with my busy grown-up’s life, I know better. I’d much rather have someone tell me my novel is a “page-turner,” “witty,” “a story that made me think and touched my heart.” I found Into the Sunset to be all of these things. It’s also a novel I’m glad I read—and that’s the highest praise of all.


SusanD said...

What a great review, Donna! (of a great book, too.) You really capture the essence and know how to highlight what a reader wants to know.

Donna said...

Thanks, Susan. It was a really fun and funny book. But I do tend to be a bit personal--did you really want to know about my rotten boyfriend from Katonah?

Mary Akers said...

Sounds wonderful! Can't wait to read it!!