There's a particular sub-type of English male you see in quite a few books and movies. It's the man who apologizes when somebody else bumps into him, who always lets other people have their way, who never complains. Frank Shaw is one of those men; he describes himself as the "great capitulator."
As we begin reading, though, Frank doesn't even know that much about himself, because he's been in a terrible car accident, suffered a traumatic brain injury and doesn't remember anything. The slim, sophisticated woman, Alice, who says she's his wife, and the fat, smug man, Oscar, who says he's Frank's older brother--well, neither one rings a bell. But Oscar not only has amnesia, he has synesthesia, where the sight of people and certain objects triggers sounds, colors, smells and strong emotions.
That nasty, rancid green smell around Oscar. What's that about? When Frank is recovering at home and Alice is back to work at her corporate striver's position at a human resources consultancy firm, what does it mean that the sight of a box of books titled Executive X, written by Alice, enrages him, or that finding a jar with a preserved pinkie floating inside of it fills him with elation?
Soon enough, though Frank still can't remember the day of his car accident and has some other big holes in his memory, he's able to return to work at the family law firm, where Oscar is the managing partner. Frank writes contracts for a living. His particular specialty is writing the fine print that nobody ever reads--which is a good thing for their clients, because Frank's fine print, or Terms & Conditions, stitch up the client's customer but good. No matter how comforting that insurance policy may sound to the covered person, Frank's Ts & Cs will make sure the insurance company makes its profits.
It's not that Frank no longer appreciates a cleverly-written set of Ts & Cs, but as he sees Oscar taking on a new client whose business repulses Frank, and as shards of memories begin to pierce the fog of amnesia, he questions everything he's been told about his life, his state of mind before the accident and what really happened.
As Frank pieces together the individual memories that return to him, and finds a few sympathetic characters to talk to, he sees that the Terms & Conditions of his own life are at least as good at stitching him up as anything he could have written. Can an expert crafter of Ts &Cs become just as skilled at destroying them?
This is a darkly comic, clever story of how the great capitulator type can be transformed by the clean, clear taste and smell of anger and outrage. Robert Glancy uses fine-print footnotes to tell important bits of the story. Sometimes there are footnotes upon footnotes, until you're reading what looks to me like about 6-point type. One chapter, titled Terms & Conditions of Sex, consists of a half-line-long sentence and three pages of footnotes.
But this isn't just an entertaining book with a clever gimmick. It's funny, touching, and sometimes discomforting in its evocation of just how soul-deadening a corporate paper-pushing job can be. In just 250 pages, but with plenty of gusto, Glancy thoroughly skewers the amorality of modern corporate life and the greedy grubbers for money and power. Frank's tortuous and poignant path to recovery leads him to rediscover things about himself and others that he'd lost long before his accident.
Glancy is a new voice in fiction with an inventive, engaging and lively writing style. I'll be keeping an eye out for his next book.
Note: Thanks to the publisher, Bloomsbury USA, and Amazon's Vine program for providing an advance reviewing copy. Terms & Conditions is scheduled to be published in the US on April 22, 2014.