A debut novel about a Brooklyn Heights wife and mother who has embezzled a small fortune from her children's private school and makes a run for it, leaving behind her trust fund poet husband, his maybe-secret lover, her two daughters, and a school board who will do anything to find her.
Although Culliton has set her cranky and humorous debut novel in the borough of her birth, she avoids the pratfalls of her peers ... Culliton aims to expose the lie of polite society, Brooklyn-based or otherwise, its barely suppressed derangements and contradictions. Locked within each character: an ugly secret self she tries feverishly to suppress, one fomented by her poisonous surroundings...Culliton delights in ripping masks clean off ... Although Nathan’s character could fall easily into parody or cliché, his profound confusion and deep denial help lend pathos to the story. 'Perhaps it’s now time to discuss Marion,' he muses, days after her disappearance. 'Maybe this will sort itself out.' Spoiler: It does in a fashion, in a way that won’t allow Nathan, nor we readers, to soon forget it.
...funny, pointed and very smart. With its madcap plot (embezzling mom goes on the lam), its dry tone, and its sly digs at upper-crust culture, the book does for Brooklyn what the novels of Maria Semple do for Seattle. The title character, Marion Palm, has no apparent moral center and few likable qualities, and yet you will root hard for her — Culliton is that good at revealing what makes her tick, earning Marion our empathy, if not our admiration ... This is a hugely entertaining book, a page-turner, laugh-out-loud funny in some parts. But it is also a study in loneliness and family dysfunction, selfishness, motherhood (and fatherhood), and the sad way that it is so easy for anyone — homely or not — to be rendered invisible.
By far and away, the most compelling character is the eponymous anti-heroine Marion. Once in hiding, she 'prizes her own ability to coordinate, once wasted on PTA functions and her husband’s literary readings.' Marion can be a shrewd and steely criminal, but Culliton limns out Marion’s history, linking every bad decision back to the college education that intelligent Marion didn’t get or a bad waitressing job in her 20s. Culliton doesn’t excuse Marion, but she makes a complex character sympathetic and humorous. The Misfortune of Marion Palm is a screwball comedy of a novel for current times.