Cover image for The gift : a novel
The gift : a novel
Flusfeder, D. L., 1960-
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Fourth Estate, 2003.

Physical Description:
312 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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Phillip has a lot on his mind. At home, in his unnecessarily large, excessively expensive house, he is attempting to become a Taoist

master of love with his wife, Alice, but his quest is forever being interrupted by the requests of his twin daughters -- "Can we have a pony, please?"; "We want to go to boarding school." At work, in his shed/office at the bottom of the garden, between countless games of Minesweeper and FreeCell, Phillip is trying to pay the mortgage by writing the instruction manuals to Korean bread-making machines. And at parties where he is concerned that he is not taken seriously -- he is variously mistaken as a waiter and a rhinoplastic surgeon -- Phillip tells the world he is, in fact, a screenwriter.

Above all, Phillip is obsessing about his best friends, Barry and Sean. They are rich, more successful, and, most worryingly, they give great presents. Their gifts are always exquisite -- a full set of Italian crockery, a handmade corkscrew from Venice; they give them on birthdays, at parties, and quite often for no reason whatsoever; and, increasingly, these presents break all bounds of generosity.

They are gifts that hurt a man's pride. And they can never be matched. Which doesn't mean Phillip won't try. . . .

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Phillip, the happily married father of twin girls, likes to try on professions at cocktail parties, telling people that he is a designer of Chinese gardens or a screenwriter. In fact, he writes manuals fororean bread-making machines. When his wealthy friends, Barry and Sean, make a habit out of treating Phillip and his family to fabulous Swiss skiing vacations and bringing them artifacts such as a costly Venetian corkscrew, Phillip's pride takes a serious hit, and he develops a severe case of gift inadequacy. Soon he turns the whole enterprise into a mad contest, trying to think up clever items to give them in return, even going so far as to stalk reclusive rock star Syd Barrett with the intention of whisking him to a private meeting with Pink Floyd fan Barry. Flusfeder's farcical morality tale is darkly comedic but also surprisingly sweet in all the right places. Phillip, especially, is a huge draw, and his increasingly embarrassing antics may remind readers of Larry David from the TV program Curb Your Enthusiasm. --Joanne Wilkinson Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Black comedy meets social satire meets British farce in this winning novel by the author of Man Kills Woman, which shows how one man's generosity can become the source of another man's insanity. Phillip, an ex-football (as in soccer) star and a vaguely hapless instruction manual writer, is best friends with couple Barry and Sean, who are so rich and nice that they shower Phillip and his family with lavish gifts-skiing vacations, rare Chinese carvings and priceless Venetian corkscrews. With each new present he receives, Phillip becomes more obsessed with finding the perfect return gift. Repeated failures leave him so overwhelmed by gift inadequacy ("I had lost. I had been defeated utterly... I was the inferior man") that his attempts at reciprocation begin to look more like revenge. A sketchy fellow named Carlo-whom Phillip meets in jail after a dinner party gone awry-feeds Phillip's anxieties, and soon Phillip is sneaking into Barry and Sean's home in the middle of the night to perform a "creepy-crawly": shifting around their personal possessions and inadvertently killing one of the chinchilla rabbits he'd given them as a gift. Flusfeder's delightfully spare prose makes room, too, for the search for cult hero and erstwhile Pink Floyd guitarist Syd Barrett, with whom Barry is obsessed; movie world excesses, displayed by Barry and Sean's fancy friends; parenting anxiety; and lots of Taoist sex-though why Phillip's wife, Alice, remains eternally willing despite his near-psychosis is a bit of a mystery. This is a witty, razor-sharp novel, with just the right amount of tenderness. (Nov.) Forecast: The shag-carpet jacket and a blurb from Jonathan Franzen should catch the eye of U.S. hipsters, who will find this compares favorably to the somewhat gentler offerings of reigning Brit-boy wit Nick Hornby. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Phillip intended to be a professional English footballer, but an unfortunate injury cancelled that career goal forever. Instead, he opts to write operating manuals for household items made in foreign countries. His twin daughters never stop asking him for things the family cannot afford-a pony, boarding school, and fabulous vacations. Phillip's "best" friends happen to be a rich gay couple who shower Phillip's family with perfect and inevitably expensive gifts. His manly pride hurt, Phillip becomes obsessed with finding the perfect gift that will forever even the score. He takes up with all kinds of questionable people and spends all the savings he has, eventually teetering on the very brink of disaster. A simple change in thinking brings a modicum of reality back to Phillip's life, saving his family and his sanity-maybe. British writer Flusfeder (Man Kills Woman) allows Phillip to narrate his own story, giving it a surreal quality as the teller loses his mind to his obsession. He simply cannot comprehend the confusion, resentment, and anger of those around him. The incomplete resolution of the crisis adds interest and creates a novel end to the story. Recommended for public libraries.-Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Providence (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Gift A Novel Chapter One After the weekend was over, when we were driving home from Barry and Sean's house and the twins were at last beginning to whisper themselves to sleep in the back seat, I said to my wife that we must buy our hosts something. We had taken Barry and Sean's hospitality, as we had so many times before; we had to give something in return, maybe a good bottle of champagne, vintage, the label that Barry approved of. They don't want anything, Alice said. They like having people to stay. Anyway, what do you get the people who have everything? Anything they want they can get themselves. Something well chosen. The price isn't important. I don't know. But if you really want to get something we can give them something for the house. Yes, that's a good idea, I said. I found what I thought I was looking for in a film memorabilia shop. An Italian poster for one of Barry's movies. It was a very big poster, but Barry and Sean lived in a very big house. The poster cost more than I had dreamt of paying, which seemed to be part of the joy of the giving. The boy in the shop, whose plump hairless face was punctuated with little metal studs, slipped it inside a protective cardboard tube for me to carry. I showed the poster to Alice and I felt very proud. Look, it's perfect isn't it? just look at those colors. I don't know. I'm not sure. How much was it? These things cost a lot, don't they? Don't worry about it. It was a bargain. But it's perfect isn't it? No it's lovely, it is, but I thought we were going to get them something for the house. This is for the house. Yes but have you seen any posters in their house? I've got a feeling it might be vulgar to advertise your own movies? I was thinking candlesticks. We can give them candlesticks as well. No that's too much. It's embarrassing. We have to give them one or the other. Well, which do you want? Do you want to give them candlesticks? We'll give them the poster. Only if you want to. I knew I was looking like a child when I said that, a boy unsure of love who was threatening to cry if an ice cream wasn't bought or his boots not tied for him. Yes I want to. It's a very good choice. We had been invited to have dinner with Barry and Sean at an Italian restaurant in Chelsea. I took the poster along. I left it in its cardboard tube with the cloakroom girl. Alice walked ahead of me into the restaurant. (She is more adept in this kind of world -- I might even have pushed her to go ahead.) The maitre d' stood tolerantly in front of us as we looked and listened for Barry's unmistakable head. There. I heard it over there. Like bells from a miniature traveling church, the trinkets in Barry's hair tolled through the restaurant. Shiny metal fetishes, seaglass pendants, polished leather scroll-cases, hooked and tied and dangling from wild grey and black curls. Sean waved as we approached. His head was shaved, restaurant lights glared off his scalp, the blubbery W of male pattern baldness. When I first met Barry, long ago, when Alice still worked for him, I'd been struck, principally, by the unnecessary magnitude of his wedding present to us and by the things he wore in his hair. I'd fearfully assumed that the producer was deep into primitive religion, voodoo, gris-gris, dark practices. I later realized -- or, as it usually happened, Alice explained to me -- Barry wore heavy things in his hair to show that he could, and to remind the world that Sean, his younger lover, could not. He added to them periodically, like a charm bracelet. Also at the table was Dylan. I had hoped she would not be. Dylan had close-cropped hair and a handsome, unnecessarily young face, like a rock star's. She outshone everything and could be mean to people. Once she had been a young writer of passionate plays as slim and delicate and poetical as herself. Then she had alchemized one of her plays into a film and now she was middle aged and was a movie director in Hollywood and her body and her vanity and her appetites had expanded into the space the world gave her. Critics praised her. Foreign governments awarded her medals. Women admired her. Men adored her, especially gay men. She had a variety of children, including one with her current husband, who had once been her ambitious, watchful assistant. I reminded myself not to try talking to him tonight. I often did try, because he always seemed so anxious and watchful, but he didn't like to be pitied, especially in public by someone like me. And you remember Phillip. The husband looked watchfully away. Sean repeated the statement a couple of times before Dylan noticed that she was meant to respond. Yes, of course. Dylan smiled lamely. I winced. Of course she didn't remember me, she never did, despite having met me at least a dozen times. She realized she was meant to say something more. She concentrated very hard. Lines emerged in surprising parts of her face. You're a doctor aren't you? No, I said and my smile hurt my teeth. You must be confusing me with someone else. No it's you, something to do with noses. We last met after a preview. I talked to you about Sinology. You see? I knew that. Dylan went back to talking about herself for the benefit and applause of her claque of hustlers, actors, flunkies, and starlets, who were hungry for everything she had to say, do, and imagine ... The Gift A Novel . Copyright © by David Flusfeder. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from The Gift: A Novel by David Flusfeder All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.