Bursting with family gossip, in-jokes, loopy digressions, and the occasional character assassination, Jill Eisenstadt’s second novel, Kiss Out, reads like a long and chatty letter from home. The news may be skewed and the scuttlebutt hyperbolic, but the prose, every line of it, has brash exuberance, personality galore.
Like From Rockaway, Eisenstadt’s celebrated first book, Kiss Out comes to us from New York’s outer boroughs. Sam Lubin, lead singer for an oldies rock band in Queens, astounds both his family and his pool-hall cronies by announcing that he’s gotten engaged. The bride-to-be is Claire Allswell, an 18-year-old virgin from New Jersey whose father happens to be a multimillionaire. ”This chick’s got trouts swimming around her backyard,” boasts Lubin, who can scarcely believe his good fortune.
Lubin’s best friends, the twins Fred and Oscar Arm, are appalled: Fred because he’s kind of fallen in love with Claire himself, and Oscar because he’s something of a working-class moralist and figures (rightly) that Lubin is marrying for the money. As the wedding approaches, Eisenstadt has wicked fun pumping up and then puncturing the rituals of modern American matrimony.
Problem is, she’s so busy directing our attention toward oddball bits of business — a rude parrot in a beauty parlor, a couple of guys wearing Mr. Coffee filters as yarmulkes, a dental hygienist who’s phobic about ants in her kitchenette — that the story keeps stalling. And every time she gets it going again, it feels less plausible. Still likable, but just a little bit less plausible.
Even when the episodes run on too long, though, and the details pile up like so many empty Budweiser cans — even when the plot veers off to include a pointless excursion to Mexico — the novel’s high spirits and antic inventiveness, its springy texture and breezy, Queens voice carry you on and through.