Family Man

Family Man

by Elinor Lipman


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A hysterical phone call from Henry Archer’s ex-wife and a familiar face in a photograph upend his well-ordered life and bring him back into contact with the child he adored, a short-term stepdaughter from a misbegotten marriage long ago. Henry is a lawyer, an old-fashioned man, gay, successful, lonely. Thalia is now twenty-nine, an actress-hopeful, estranged from her newly widowed eccentric mother—Denise, Henry’s ex. Hoping it will lead to better things for her career, Thalia agrees to pose as the girlfriend of a horror-movie luminary who is down on his romantic luck. When Thalia and her complicated social life move into the basement of Henry’s Upper West Side townhouse, she finds a champion in her long-lost father, and he finds new life—and maybe even new love—in the commotion.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547336084
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 05/01/2010
Pages: 305
Sales rank: 342,340
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

ELINOR LIPMAN is the award-winning author of eleven novels, including The View from Penthouse B and The Inn at Lake Devine; one essay collection, I Can’t Complain; and Tweet Land of Liberty: Irreverent Rhymes from the Political Circus. She lives in New York City.


Northampton, Massachusetts, and New York, New York

Date of Birth:

October 16, 1950

Place of Birth:

Lowell, Massachusetts


A.B., Simmons College, 1972; Honorary Doctor of Letters, Simmons College, 2000

Read an Excerpt

I Hate You Still
Henry archer did not attend his ex-wife’s husband’s funeral, but he did send a note of condolence. The former Denise Archer wrote back immediately and urgently: Would he believe, after twenty-four reasonably happy years, that life as she knew it had been snatched out from under her? Her postscript said, “Your number’s unlisted. Call me,” and there it was, a bridge he’d never planned to cross.
     His quiet greeting, “It’s Henry Archer, Denise,” provoked an audible sob. She quickly clarified that it wasn’t bereavement he was hearing in her voice, but relief, a sense she’d been thrown a lifeline.
     “Me?” he asked.
     Could he stand hearing the whole sordid story? Had he known that Glenn Krouch had two sons from another marriage? Because they were getting everything, every last thing except the clothes, the furs, the jewelry, and one signed Picasso, which was only a pencil sketch. Was he sitting down? Because some famously heartless lawyer had set twenty-five years of marriage as the watershed anniversary after which the prenuptial agreement would deem her long-suffering enough to be a true wife (voice crescendos) and not some piece of shit! It was, in the opinion of two lawyers (husbands of friends, not their area of expertise, should she get a third or fourth opinion?), a hideously airtight legal document. And now these stepsons were taking the will so literally, as if twenty-four faithful years didn’t render a pre-nup null, void, and vicious. How many times had she asked Glenn if he’d updated his will, meaning, Am I in it? To which he’d always said, Yes, of course.
     The “of course” amounted to a monthly allowance under the thumb of older son and executor, Glenn Junior. Horrible! And so much for Glenn Senior’s famous love for Thalia! Henry remembered Thalia, didn’t he? Another indignity: Thalia’s portion was in trust until she was thirty-five. How condescending and sexist was that? Had she mentioned that these sons, not even thirty-five themselves, were not only Glenn’s favorite children but his business partners as well? And who but she, their reviled stepmother, had arranged every detail of the black-tie party celebrating the addition of “& Sons” to all signage and had invited the boys’ mother and seated her at the head table?
     She’d helped raise these stepsons since they were eight and ten, buying bunk beds and electronics for their alternate weekends, enduring camp visiting days and humid swim meets. In some families, the ice might have melted; young Glenn and Tommy could have developed warm filial feelings toward her as years went by and the marriage appeared to make their father happy. But apparently nothing mended a mother’s broken heart like sending the second wife to the poorhouse.
     If only she’d known . . . well, she had known. She’d signed the hideous document, thinking divorce was the only thing she had to fear. Besides, who thought Glenn with his good stress tests and low blood pressure would die at seventy? The boys got the business, its buildings and outbuildings, and the unkindest, most ridiculous bequest of all: Denise’s marital home, the five-bedroom apartment on Park Avenue! Could Henry even imagine what it was worth now? Her friends said the noninheritance was ante-diluvian, like a Jane Austen movie or a Masterpiece Theatre mini-series where the male heirs get to throw the mother and daughter to the wolves.
     Infuriating and unfair! One would think that she, the second wife, was single-handedly the home wrecker, no fault of -Daddy’s, because of course he had made restitution with cars, then condos, then partnerships. Who could hold a grudge this long? If only she’d had a job that had contributed to her own upkeep and toward the mortgage payments. Were there mortgage payments? She wished she’d been paying better attention to that, too. Admittedly, ten rooms were too many for a woman living alone. But wasn’t downsizing a widow’s prerogative? Three real estate agents from one office, all clucking their condolences as they took measurements, had spent hours counting closets and flushing toilets, exactly two weeks and one day after Glenn’s funeral. And yes, the sons did offer something like an extension: Denise could stay as long as she paid the common charges and the taxes, which, conveniently for her new overlords, exceeded her monthly -allowance.
     “I wish you’d been there,” Denise told her ex-husband.
     “At the wake! If my friends hadn’t seen it with their own two eyes, they’d never believe that Nanette crashed the receiving line, wearing a black suit that screamed I’m the widow, too. Yes, I hugged her and yes, we looked like one big happy family in mourning, but I was numb. I didn’t mean it! I was on widow -autopilot.”
     “Maybe,” Henry ventured, “Nanette was there to support her children.”
     “All I know is that the minute I turned my back, that self-appointed chief of protocol, Glenn Krouch Junior, pulled his mother into the receiving line. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so utterly alone.”
     “Thalia wasn’t there?” Henry asked.
     “Thalia was there. Thalia chose to stand at the other end of the line.”
     “Who knows why daughters do these things? I can’t keep track of my maternal shortcomings. She and I . . . well, never mind. Needless to say, we weren’t speaking before that and we’re not speaking now.”
     “I’m sorry. One would think, especially on that day?—”
     “I should have had a child with Glenn, a flesh-and-blood Krouch. And when I think that I viewed his vasectomy as one of the original selling points?—”
     “Selling points in favor of your extramarital affair?” asked Henry. “How soon did that come up? The night you met?”
     “Oh, hon,” said Denise. “Is that always going to be a sore subject? Even though you’ve made peace with your sexual -orientation?”
     I hate you still, he thought.
How odd to be his ex-wife’s confidant. Henry has done nothing to advance a rapprochement, but Denise has called him daily to rant further about greedy stepsons and the breadline. Her chumminess and her invitations suggest that he is a safe companion for a widow, that a gay ex is something of a status symbol, that her betrayal is not only ancient history, but has been absolved by his subsequent sexual homecoming. When Denise pauses for breath, he asks about Thalia?—?location, job, marital status, content of their last communication, and particularly what Thalia understands of the short-term father named Henry Archer who didn’t fight for her in court. Invariably Denise, the new woman who has declared herself a work in progress, changes the subject back to Denise.

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The Family Man 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 46 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have long been a fan of Elinor Lipman, and I think this book is her best yet. The quirky characters that are her signature are drawn with a light hand and a tender heart. Even the annoying character is given sympathetic treatment. There are some laugh-out-loud moments, and the rest of the book had me smiling. The family that is created in this novel is so unconventional that it makes perfect sense. This book is truly a joy to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was much better than I expected. The characters have depth and the story line is rollicking but highly enjoyable. You wind up rooting for ALL the characters, no matter how annoying they are because they are so human. Highly readable and highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My second Eleanor Lipman read was another delightful experience. I love her fast, witty conversations and quick change of pace. Her characters feel real.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel is highly stylized without being cloying or annoying. The characters are endearing and the story is scaled to life. Hilarious and heartfelt.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
triscuit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lipman, a once-bitingly funny author of social comedy, is sliding into the miasma of wealthy middle-aged sophisticates who are far too self-congratulatory. Rich man with all the right values re-adopts his former step-daughter as she launches acting career in Manhattan while her dipsy-doodle mother fights to hang on to spoils of marriage to yet another rich man.
detailmuse on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Family Man is pure Elinor Lipman: witty, quirky, and optimistic. Set in Manhattan, it¿s about a middle-aged gay man who (no spoiler) reconnects with the step-daughter he lost decades earlier when he and his ex-wife divorced after a brief marriage. The story unfolds easily through Lipman¿s abundant and expert dialogue, revealing lovable (and lovable-to-hate) characters and entertaining plots of family, romance, and the media. Beautiful neighborhoods, yummy restaurants, and the lively cast made me think, in the words of 30 Rock¿s Liz Lemon, ¿I want to go to there!¿ And for 300 pages with Elinor Lipman, I did.
teaperson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A solid performance by Elinor Lipman, a master of the modern comedy of manners. It tells an interesting story about a gay man reconnecting with his now-grown stepdaughter, an aspiring actress, and his crazy ex-wife. The characters are interesting yet not caricatures.
Brianna_H on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Whitty & pithy dialog make The Family Man an entertaining novel. Lipman creates amusing and eccentric characters that make reading this book highly enjoyable.
coolmama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Finally, after the last 3 Elinor Lipman clunkers, she is back with a winner!!!! I've been waiting!!A wonderful, delightful, funny, witty, sharp, dialogue driven story about Henry Archer, and his ex-wife Denise (since their divorce, he has come to turns with his homosexuality), and her 29 year old daughter Thalia who has taken an "acting" job to pose as a D list celebrity's girlfriend.Reads like a screenplay, would make a fab movie!So grateful that Lipman's humor has returned!!!
bearette24 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this book, Elinor Lipman turns her acerbic wit to New York City instead of Massachusetts (her usual setting). The lightning-quick repartee was a bit much for me - I felt like I was watching a high-speed tennis match! But the characters were endearing and the concept entertaining. The story focuses on Thalia, a would-be actress who agrees to a publicity stunt. The plot is kind of beside the point, since it ends predictably. The story is more about the characters - Henry, a refined gay lawyer; Denise, a meddlesome heart-of-gold type who recalls the mother in Lipman's Then She Found Me; Thalia, a flirtatious drama queen; and Todd, Henry's warm-hearted retailer boyfriend.
mkschoen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good, but...I kept thinking there was going to be more, I don't know plot? Which sounds strange, because a lot of stuff happens in this book (Man sends condolence card to his ex-wife, who is recently widowed, is reunited with his long-lost daughter, and finds a new love) but it all seemed very passive somehow. Like the plot was just sort of flowing by while Lipman made wry comments about it, insetad of being actively engaged in what was going on.
smallwonder56 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Henry and Thalia. The odd couple. I say that tongue-in-cheek, but it is an odd pairing. An older gay man and the step-daughter that he lost track of when her mother divorced him. Elinor Lipman is another author whose greatest talent is writing wonderful characters and this novel is no exception. I loved Henry, put up with Thalia (though it's a very good depiction of a certain type of young woman, it reminded me a little too much of my son's girlfriend), couldn't *stand* Thalia's mother (and Henry's ex-wife) Denise. All is as it should be.I enjoyed the book very much. I didn't relate to it as well as I have some of Elinor Lipman's other books but it was a satisfying read.
infojunkie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A wonderful, very well-written and amusing tale of the life of an extended family in NYC. The plot is not the star, the dialogue is, and Lipman has a terrific ear for conversation and bon mots. In fact, it read a bit like a screenplay; would not be surprised to see this made into a film. While not as moving or deep as The Inn at Lake Devine, this was a perfectly entertaining read, and sometimes that's just what's desired.
sjmccreary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a funny and sweet story about Henry, a recently retired attorney and gay man; Denise, his ex-wife whose husband just died; and Thalia, Denise's daughter whom Henry adopted and then gave up but never stopped loving. Denise is fighting her step-sons over her husband's estate, since the prenup stipulated she would not inherit unless she'd been married 25 years, but it had only been 24 years. Thalia is a struggling actress who isn't speaking to her mother and is currently employed in the salon where Henry gets his hair cut. Henry is thrilled to finally recognize Thalia and invite her into his life. So many delightful characters - and a wonderful, feel-good story about this awkward family who aren't always sure how to relate to one another as each one searches for their own place in life and someone to love.
crazy4novels on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Elinor Lipman's "The Family Man," set in contemporary Manhattan, is a witty celebration of engaging dialogue and the triumph of love. Wordy characters abound in this fast-paced domestic farce: Henry Archer, a successful, recently retired gay attorney; Denise, his histrionic ex-wife from the distant past; Todd, a middle aged sales clerk with his eye on Henry; Thalia, an aspiring actress who seeks to reunite with her stepfather Henry after twenty years of estrangement -- all of these characters are bubbling over with something to say, and the result is a light yet gratifying verbal soufflé reminiscent of Grant/Hepburn screwball comedies of the 30's and 40's. Denise's Xanax-induced "eulogy" of her deceased husband (third one and counting) is almost as entertaining as her verbal overtures to her new soul mate, Albert Einstein, a greyhound rescued from the racing circuit and formerly named "Kill Bill." Todd's "coming out" interchange with his house-coated Brooklynese mother is priceless. The story is saturated with New York references both real (Zabar's, the Number 7 Line, a haute restaurant named "Per Se") and imagined which reinforce the urbane nature of the wordplay. Lipman's novel may fall on the light side of the literary scale, but that doesn't make it any less rewarding on a long summer afternoon.
Megabaker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a light read with good dialogue: fast, witty, and humorous.
bookmagic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first Elinor Lipman book I have read, recommended to me by a friend. Elinor creates memorable characters, the fatherly Henry, out of his comfort zone, Thalia, his larger than life step-daughter, and the annoying but ultimately likable Denise. Denise barges back into Henry's life after the death of her husband, whom she left Henry for. Her husband died one year before the expiration of their 25 year old pre-nup and her step-sons are cutting her out. Henry reluctantly becomes her only confidant, while trying to build a relationship with Thalia. This book is light, witty, and sharp. There is also Todd, a potential new love for Henry and Leif, the actor hiring Thalia to pose as his fiance. It is humorous and whimsical. An easy and enjoyable read for a Saturday afternoon. It's hard to put down once you start. There are so many brilliant scenes that make the reader laugh. Now I just have to decide what will be my next Elinor read.
hammockqueen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
found this book to be fun with clever characters. Gay father Henry Archer, unhappy ex wife, Denise. daughter of theirs Thalia. Denise 2nd husband leaves all to his sons and denise and thalia need monies to live. Prenup was for 25 yrs. but guy died at 24. Clever.
bell7 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After his ex-wife's husband of 24 years dies, leaving her with nothing thanks to a pre-nup that stipulated the marriage had to last 25 years, Henry Archer sends her a sympathy card. He has, for the most part, gotten over any heartbreak, and in fact has made peace with his homosexuality. He decides to reconnect with Thalia, the daughter from Denise's first marriage that Henry adopted but hasn't seen in two decades. Meanwhile, Denise has no idea about this, and is clinging to Henry as her last lifeline...oh, and wants to set him up, too.Lipman's newest novel is set in New York City, a departure from the other books that I've read by her so far. The dialog kept the pace fast and funny, even though the plot focuses primarily on the characters and their relationships. A light read that was fun, and would have gotten a higher rating if I had been in a different mood.
LesaHolstine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Up until now, The Inn at Lake Devine has been my favorite Lipman novel. All of her books have wonderful characters, people with a wry way of looking at life. Lipman's characters often cut through the hypocrisy of life. Elinor Lipman writes social satire, fun novels with underlying messages of acceptance. And, Henry Archer, is a kind, gentle man who exemplifies the best of Lipman. He's perfect for The Family Man.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cute book! so many personalities and bizarre adventures..made me jealous!! it proves, anyone can be a just have to want it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
,=Line finished. Im making a song. It goes like this: A rock in the water sinks to the deep, but you and me float to the surface.A secret so hidden and hard to keep,her head on my shoulder we're thinkin about past and the present, there are many things kept to hearts content,like the memories weve spent together, but love is a different thing. (Guitar solo)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hello son