Emily Culliton’s razor-sharp debut novel, The Misfortune of Marion Palm, follows the titular Marion, a clever and creative Brooklyn accountant who goes on the lam with $180,000 that she has embezzled from her daughter’s private school. She leaves behind her rudderless, philandering husband and her two increasingly wild daughters in order to hide out in plain sight.
Culliton writes Marion, a woman who spent her life clawing her way out of the clutches of poverty, with a deliciously dark humor that permeates the entire work. At times the novel serves as a screaming satire of Brooklyn, private schools and the entire family relationship genre. Though occasionally tongue-in-cheek, Culliton flashes between points of view to deliver a straightforward and blunt exploration of Marion’s crime, motivation and aftermath, which almost reads like a novelization of a Wes Anderson film.
Culliton’s tight writing style leaves very little room for embellishment or empathy, which is unnecessary, as most of her characters are unlikable—yet readers will find themselves rooting for them anyway. Marion, though driven and fearless, is not a particularly good person or parent, but she is a good character who helms a cast of similarly strange figures. No one is safe from a vivid depiction of their flaws, especially Nathan—Marion’s part-time poet husband—and the members of the school board, who are particularly realistic.
Each point of view is delivered in bite-size chapters, which make for an enjoyable and easy read, perfect for vacation. As the title may suggest, The Misfortune of Marion Palm isn’t a particularly happy book, but it delivers a series of snappy quotes (“Kick all the boys you want”) and a delightfully satisfying ending that readers will not see coming.