For the past ten years, Malcolm Poe has dreamt of escape. His plan is simple: The day his youngest child starts college, Malcolm will leave his devoted wife to resume the creative life he abandoned for marriage. As the hour of his departure nears, Malcolm buys a blank notebook to chronicle the riot of his memories, passions, regrets, and aspirations. The Escape of Malcolm Poe is a hilarious ascent into the deluded imagination of a middle-aged man who believes it is never too late to start over.
The Escape of Malcolm Poe was a book that appeared one day in our mailbox, it wasn’t requested and yet, the premise, once I read through it, didn’t sound that bad. (Thank you to Rare Bird Lit for gifting us with this copy.) I had just finished the most dreadful read about a man mishandling his own mid-life crisis (I’m Having So Much Fun Here Without You), and I do have to admit to a moment of panic about reading The Escape of Malcolm Poe. Oh no, please, no, how can I possibly endure another story about a man struggling through his mid-life issues?
I became assured fairly quickly however, that this would not be a repeat of that previously read book. Malcolm’s intensely dry humour and sarcastic look upon his life, as well as his cutting sermons about their friends, their homes, lives and the acceptance of their mundane lives, had me chuckling many times and instead of wanting to toss the book across the room, I nicely settled in to Malcolm’s upfront tale of his plan to take flight from his marriage. Malcolm has a very dry sense of humour and is really and truly fed up with his life strongly wishes to return to the life he led before he married Louise.
For instance, here is what Malcolm has to say about his wife:
Yes, of course, I am short-tempered with Louise, but when I consider the facts in any objective way, I think it is a miracle that I have not lost control and strangled her. Among her many annoying habits are the following, in no particular order: Her voice is piping, her laugh unimaginably wheezy and grating, and her attempts at humor breathtakingly banal. She butchers cliché and idiom…She watches soap operas and reads gossip magazines, but, if reminded that they’re a brainless waste of time, she says, “That’s the whole point.” She thinks it’s charming to reply to a joke with crossed eyes and a stuck-out tongue. She calls me “baby” all the time, though I have begged her to stop. It’s what my mother called me, and it’s an erection killer. She ends every single phone call, no matter how fleeting, with “Love you tons!” or “”Love you loads!” – the oral equivalent of the smiley face. Whenever she needs to use the bathroom, she pipes, “potty time!” When she gets overexcited, which is often, spittle sprays from her mouth, and I am forced to duck for cover….Despite all of the above, everyone finds Louise adorable and sympathetic. The girls can’t stop hugging and kissing her. But when I reach out to them, they recoil as though I were covered in weeping sores. (page 102-103.)
Malcolm is convinced that once he leaves Louise, he will easily and freely return to his creative life, write that elusive novel and live happily ever after. He does everything he can to slowly remove himself from his married life, even attempting to spark an affair, thinking he’s only making it so that once he does leave, Louise won’t be too upset.
He chronicles what he feels are his final days with Louise in journals and provides reasoning as to why he feels he needs to be free from this marriage. Malcolm even loses his job, his behaviour of late forces his employer’s hand and Malcolm out the door. This he sees only as an added allowance to his impending freedom. However, there is this other, and quite significant moment in Malcolm’s life that he attempts to downplay. His son, his only son, Archer, was killed when he was quite young in an accident. This tragic moment in Malcolm’s life is found to be at the heart of his sadness, although he would insist it truly isn’t. Although he sees Archer in the personal trainer at the gym, he often thinks of him, or finds ways to remember him in some passing comment, Malcolm would insist Archer’s passing has nothing at all to do with his unhappiness and plans to leave his wife, or to take back his creative life.
However, as hard as Malcolm tries, the reader knows better and it this pervasive sadness and the deep denial that Malcolm is steeped in that has turned him against his life. His daughters find his sarcasm and cruelty to their mother appalling and continue to distance themselves from him. Malcolm only sees this as a positive thing enabling him to leave his family life. In the end, Louise grants him his freedom, but the reader can see the sad and lonely direction Malcolm will be left with, happiness will not find him in this way either.
The sharp humour but also this underlying sadness in Malcolm’s life and running through his story, made The Escape of Malcolm Poe an enjoyable read. I was not left with this sense of frustration from a man that is trying to escape from his married life, instead, I felt such sadness for Malcolm and wished him the peace he so obviously and desperately needed.