The Brinkmeyers by Michael Cameron This novel by bestselling author and TV scriptwriter Michael Cameron offers a hilarious and intimate portrait of a modern, dysfunctional family living in Surrey. The protagonist, Hymie Brinkmeyer—a 50-year-old Jewish American oil tycoon who moved to England after meeting his ‘English rose’ 15 years ago—is facing something of a mid-life crisis and copes by writing a confessional blog, which forms the main basis of the book.
Although on the surface he appears to have everything (money, a nice house, nice car, golf membership), in his candid blog posts, he confesses to certain ‘blind spots’ in his life—chiefly how he no longer has sex with his wife and how he is worried about a suspicious lump in his scrotum (but it will just be a cyst, right?).
His daughter, Karen, is also a promiscuous rebel (but he still calls her by her affectionate childhood nickname, ‘Bunny,’ all the while recognising it’s “a name she seems determined to live up to”) and he is starting to develop feelings for his leather-clad secretary Colleen, who has stoically loved him for years.
Importantly, we get the sense that Hymie is a good man who has sacrificed a lot for his family, chiefly leaving America, which he still gets homesick for every Thanksgiving. He’s also sad about getting older and, fundamentally, just wants everyone he loves to be OK.
As well as Hymie’s blogs, we also learn about the family through diary posts written by daughter Karen and his wife Maggie. Although just 19, Karen already has one boy, Cleo, and another one on the way by a different father. She believes she is the “last voice of rebellion” and is determined to bring down the establishment. She’s also extremely judgmental, describing her mother a “right-wing bigot with a gin problem” and golf as a “sh*t game”. She hates men – “penises with egos attached” – and her diary entries are littered with foul language. On top of this, she’s extremely delusional, never more so than in relation to her poems, which she tries to get published.
Then there’s mum, Maggie—known as the ‘ice-queen’—who seems removed from the family’s problems (she doesn’t even visit Hymie when he’s in hospital) and is obsessed with meeting her psychiatrist for some Freudian analysis, usually at suspicious times, such as on weekends or late at night.
Perhaps this is why Kevin—their delinquent 17-year-old son busted for the possession of drugs (not that anyone will admit he has a problem)—is plotting to kill her. Or perhaps not?
With such entertainingly flawed characters, fast-paced writing and a snappy plot, this book is a page-tuner from the start. The idea of using raw and unfiltered blog posts to form the basis of the novel is a great way to give readers insight into the particular character’s feelings, view point and angst. One such example is when Hymie is discussing his sex-less marriage and calls out to his readers for help: “Can anyone tell my why!!!”
It’s also full of hilarious moments, such as when Hymie is trying to get closer to his maker through his blog, and apologises for not kneeling while typing. The confessional feel throughout the book allows us to see the ‘real’ heart of the Brinkmeyers' problem and what’s driving them. In this way, we manage to get past our initial scorn for the characters, and get close to them, caring about their outcomes.
Not since Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years, have we had such a comic yet heart-rendering account of a middle-aged man’s angst and his unravelling family.
Will Hymie finally address his blind spots, get a grip on life and leave Maggie for Colleen? Will Karen ever grow up? Will Kevin really go through with it? Most importantly, with their clear lack of communication, will this dysfunctional but nevertheless loveable family survive?