The Big Picture by Douglas Kennedy
I first discovered the wonderful Douglas Kennedy during my stint as a Bookseller when I was lucky enough to be asked to be on a reading Panel for 'Six for Summer' as it was known back in the day. This was followed by 'Seven for Summer' and, oh I don't know 'Eight for Easter' probably. Clearly someone in Marketing loved their numbers in Fiction based Marketing. But I digress. The promotion was about discovering new authors and reading them for summer, which is how a proof of The Big Picture fell into my hot little bookselling mitts.
I truly fell in love this book, and subsequent works by Douglas Kennedy. To me, he should have been top of the Bestseller Lists, but somehow always seemed to fly just under the radar. I would recommend his books to customers, who would become converts. My husband, who has widely different tastes to me, also enjoyed them. I recently read about a gentleman who loved Douglas Kennedy books so much he would hand out free copies of 'The Big Picture' on the New York subway. So, this is a flag in the sand moment, I am championing this understated author. If you want a fascinating comment on 1990's yuppie culture, and a delicate dissection of human relationships then this is your book. In simpler terms, The Big Picture is awesome, read it. (I'm sorry for the bossiness, I have just had my first coffee - and am sat over the keyboard whooping like a deranged person).
Ben Bradford, Wall Street Lawyer, appears to have it all; a great job, a desirable house in the suburbs, 2 adorable children and a glamorous, intelligent wife. He thinks nothing of spending $6K on a shopping trip in Greenwich Village. On the outside, all is perfect. In reality, things could not be more different. Ben has given up his passion for photography and works at a job he despises just to fund the lifestyle he has. His wife hates him and is having an affair and his children reflect his own lifestyle of 'stuff' back at him, demanding expensive toys and having tantrums if they do not get this. Ben is trapped. One evening all of life changes suddenly when a tragic mistake occurs. Ben is given the chance to completely leave his old life behind which will take him to Montana. But can you ever leave your old life behind? And what happens, if it ever catches up with you?
A number of Douglas Kennedy's books, have the theme of impossible situations, a situation so bleak that there is no way out, no solution. This novel is no different and the tension is palpable throughout the book. You feel just how suffocating Ben's old lifestyle actually is, the train journey every morning to a job he hates, the litany of stops on the line with the same people, the endless shots of heartburn medicine. and what for? Just to have the latest 'x/y/x', to be seen driving the best car, to own a chaise lounges that was one owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson, to fill your life with 'stuff' because you are not actually enjoying your life, and then be forced to carry on doing the job you hate to pay for that 'stuff'. Ben is passionate about photography and is so burnt out, all he can do is buy the top of the range photography equipment and maddeningly never use it as he is too burnt out. It is a wonderful comment on the 1990's and yuppie culture in general.
Douglas Kennedy's writing is just wonderful. The devil is in the detail and I love how each detail is captured and sifted. Each word matters, each description counts and every scene layers up to pull us into this world of 6 figure salaries. Ben is wholly believable - unhappy, dissatisfied and heading for a heart attack. Ben's Trusts and Estates lawyerly brain helps him when he needs it most, meticulously planning his escape.
Montana is beautiful and the writing changes from a coil wound so tight typified by New York to a more easier, gentle style which reflects the Big Sky State Ben flees to.
At times, it is a bleak read, but a modern fable for us all, but gosh is it marvellous. I have read the other books by Douglas Kennedy and they are equally magnificent. But it is 'The Big Picture' that has my heart, has made it into My Top 10 and has me feeling all the nostalgia for my bookselling days when I clutched a proof of this fantastic author in my hands ready to read.