The Dismal Science (a Novel) by Peter Mountford is a melancholy and at times very funny look at dealing with the death of spouse and their shared life. When we first meet Vincenzo D’Osi he appears to be sabotaging his career, a long and successful one, at the World Bank. He starts an ill-advised controversy with a co-worker over Bolivian economic policy. This is just one of the terrible decisions Vincenzo makes and the underlying reasons he acts the way he does unfold over the entire book.
Vincenzo’s life has been touched by tragedy. His daughter Lenora, away at college, had been in an accident where she lost one of her legs. The incident capped off the strain of his marriage with Christina. In time though, the marriage healed and was perhaps improved with age and experience. When Christina is killed in an accident, Vincenzo begins his downward spiral and ultimate revival.
The Dismal Science is a smart book with literary references and smart characters that guide the action and explain the thought process. Vincenzo’s decisions aren’t always the best, but they are presented as plausible in his state of mind. Mountford’s ability to get into Vincenzo’s grief-stricken, but not too morose head, is one of the strengths of the book.
The plot clicks along from the World Bank, to New York City to Bolivia, with a couple twists as Vincenzo starts to come to grips with what he is doing professionally and personally. He is assisted by his Washington Post reporter friend Walter who tries to talks some sense into Vincenzo while they play chess and share drinks. But all of Vincenzo’s relationships end up a bit tense as he works though what parts of his life he wants to keep and under what terms.
For such a spiritual book, it doesn’t bog down. Somehow Vincenzo’s journey is entertaining and full of life even as it’s underlying theme is sadness and grief.