Man of the Year

LIST PRICE $35.00
About The Book

Beware the Man of the Year. You may praise him, resent him, even want to be him: but beneath the elegant trappings that define him, danger looms. Caroline Louise Walker’s stunning debut novel, for fans of Herman Koch’s The Dinner and Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door, delves into the increasingly paranoid mind of a man whose life as the most upstanding of citizens hides a relentlessly dark heart.

Dr. Robert Hart, Sag Harbor’s just-named Man of the Year, is the envy of his friends and neighbors. His medical practice is thriving. He has a beautiful old house and a beautiful new wife and a beautiful boat docked in the village marina. Even his wayward son, Jonah, is back on track, doing well at school, finally worthy of his father’s attentions. So when Jonah’s troubled college roommate, Nick, needs a place to stay for the summer, Hart and his wife generously offer him their guest house. A win-win: Jonah will have someone to hang with, and his father can bask in the warm glow of his own generosity.

But when he begins to notice his new houseguest getting a little too close to his wife, the good doctor’s veneer begins to crack. All the little lies Robert tells—harmless falsehoods meant to protect everything he holds dear—begin to mount. Before long, he’s embroiled in a desperate downward spiral, destroying the lives that stand in his way. It’s only the women in his life—his devoted office manager, his friends, his wife—who can clearly see the truth.

Biting and timely, Man of the Year races along at an electric pace, with a wicked twist that you won’t see coming.

Excerpt
Man of the Year 1.
Our omniscient observer flaps her hand at us. “Closer,” she demands. “Squeeze in. There you go.”

Contrary to the assumption held by photographers around the world, wearing black and avoiding conversation does not render one invisible at parties. She needn’t shout and wave her arms as though we’re children.

“Pretend you like each other.” She laughs at her own tired joke.

She fancies herself a fly on the wall, both an artist and an illusionist, zooming around like a goth banshee in this pop-up ballroom in a fancy tent, capturing moments so that we may objectify ourselves later. We’ll sort through pages of proofs to find the images that best represent us—which is to say, represent us most handsomely. She stands on chairs for better angles. She drags my family outside so we can pose in better light.

I wrap my arm around Elizabeth’s shoulder and pull her into my armpit.

“I can’t feel my cheeks,” she mutters without breaking her smile.

“Missed your calling,” I whisper.

“Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“Ventriloquist,” I say, and she goes ha-ha without moving her lips.

The photographer wags her finger. “Give me just one more minute, Dr. Hart, and you can talk all you want.”

Jonah groans. “Can we take the picture, please?” He’s being rude, but it’s what we’re all feeling. There are hands to shake and an open bar to drain. We’ve been held hostage long enough.

“Cool it, Son,” I say. “Let the girl do her job.”

Another flick of the hand, another test shot, then showtime. “Beautiful family,” she declares: unsolicited approval. “Just great. Okay, now everyone—say, ‘Forhe’sajollygoodfellow!’?”

We laugh despite ourselves, and the flash pops, and my beautiful family is digitally captured in a state of joy and intimacy.

“Christmas card,” Elizabeth says. She drops her head and massages her temples. “If that turns out, we should make it our Christmas card.”

“We’ll see.” It’s only June, and besides, it feels vulgar to send Season’s Greetings with an image taken solely in honor of me.

Jonah is already halfway to our table when Elizabeth shouts, “Come back here.” To the photographer, she says, “Wait.”

I take my wife gently by the elbow. “Do you have Stockholm syndrome? We’re free to go. Let’s go.”

She’s looking past me, nervously assessing someone or something over my shoulder. “Don’t you think we ought to take one with Nick?”

“With Nick? No. Let’s go.”

“Look at him, Bobby.” I follow her gaze to the brooding young man leaning against the reception table, waiting for Jonah. My eyes linger on a giant poster of my face—pupils large as thumbprints, smile as big as a dinner plate—bearing the caption Dr. Robert Hart: Sag Harbor Citizen of the Year.

“Yeah,” I concede, “he’s photogenic. Doesn’t mean he should be in our picture.”

“Not what I meant. You don’t think it’s cruel to make him watch us take family photos when he doesn’t have any family at all?”

“We hardly know the kid.”

“He’s not a stranger, Bobby.”

“You know what I mean.”

“He’s important to Jonah,” Elizabeth says. “That’s what matters. I want him to feel comfortable and not resentful.”

Resentful of what? Our happy family? I’m not concerned with Nick Carpenter’s resentments, but I do care about my son, and Lizzie’s right, of course. Nick has been good for him. Jonah was a grade-A loner those first two years in the dorms, but now he has a roommate who’s also a friend, which means he must have a social life, which means maybe he’ll stop threatening to drop out of college every time the going gets rough, and maybe he’ll figure out what he wants to do with this privileged life of his.

Jonah joins our huddle. “What’s up?”

“Lizzie thinks Nick should be in a picture.”

Disregarding the stage of our current debate, Jonah waves his friend over. So that settles that. Without taking his hands out of the pockets of his rented tuxedo, Nick pushes his body off the table and saunters toward us. He should have shaved for tonight. He should have combed his hair at least, but something tells me this messy look is intentional. Is that the style? And moreover: When did I get old enough to start thinking, Kids these days . . .?

“One more,” Elizabeth tells the photographer, who has been fidgeting with straps and tripods during our family meeting, while awaiting our verdict. To Nick, Lizzie smiles and says, “Get in here.”

And so, once more we squeeze together, pretending to like one another, and this time when the flash pops, we say, Cheese.

• • •

Raymond is ready for me when I meet him at the bar. He hands me one of the gin and tonics in his hands and clinks my glass with his. “Nice speech you gave up there, Sergio de Berniac.”

“Cyrano,” I say. We drink.

“What?”

“Cyrano de Bergerac.”

“Okay, Yale-boy,” he mocks.

“Hey, I’m not the only Yalie in the house tonight, dickhead.”

Scanning a crowd of stand-up citizens in black tie, he says, “Clearly not. I’m about to go into septic shock from all the bullshit in the air.”

“Cute.” I down the rest of my drink and toast the bartender with my empty glass. “Two more?” He nods and goes about making our watered-down cocktails.

“I’m not kidding,” Raymond tells me. “That speech was something else. Got a tear in my eye, no lie.”

“Sure it wasn’t from all the bullshit in the air?”

“Fuck you.”

“You’re biased.”

“That’s true, but it was still touching. You’re sort of a big deal around here, huh?”

I roll my eyes.

“Hey, enjoy it while it lasts,” he says. “Once you reach the pinnacle, there’s nowhere to go but down.”

“I’m having second thoughts about inviting you.”

He laughs. “In all seriousness, I’m proud of you, man. This is great.”

“Thanks.” I choke down the compliment. “It was cool of you to come. You really didn’t have to.”

“Hey, my oldest friend gets knighted, and you think I’d miss it?”

“Knighted. Yeah, right. Sir Man of the Year right here.”

“Sir Citizen, actually.”

“Whatever.”

“Exactly. Fuck these guys. They don’t even know.”

“No they don’t,” I say, and we clink glasses and drink again.

Raymond Harrison: my only friend from the South Shore who stayed true long after I left town. Ray gets me, and he forgives me, because even though he’s stayed loyal to West Babylon and claims he’d never leave for a million bucks, we both know his conviction is born of fear. As long as he shields himself from what he’s missing, he won’t miss it. So he visits me in Sag Harbor sometimes, and we talk about the old days and how Long Island has changed. He’ll tell me about some new bar that just opened, or about his new supervisor or apprentice, and we’ll debate whether renovations at the Coliseum were worth the Islanders’ troubles, and how the Jets still can’t seem to pull it off, but how the Mets might surprise us—until they don’t. When we run out of things to hash and rehash, we’ll talk about our families. He’ll ask too many questions, wanting to know if his troubles are normal. Then he’ll go home to his normal and I’ll go home to mine, and we’ll each do our best to forget about the other normal: the one he’ll never have, the one I left behind. Six months later, we’ll do it again.

On the far end of the dance floor, a twelve-piece band begins playing “Lady in Red.” Given as how the only woman wearing a red evening gown tonight is my wife, de facto lady of honor, I take this as my cue to showcase romance for public approval.

“I ought to go,” I tell Ray. A city councilman with an untied bow tie is asking my wife to dance. She’s looking around, presumably for me, presumably for a rescue from wandering hands and whiskey breath. The pervert takes her by the waist. “Duty calls.”

“Yeah, I really feel for you, man.” Ray smirks. “I swear, if she was anybody’s wife but yours . . .”

“Gross.”

“I said if. Give me a break. But believe me when I say there’s not a man in this room who wouldn’t if he could.”

“I get it. You want to bang my wife.”

He laughs out loud. “No, Bobby. Everyone wants to bang your wife.”

I slap him on the back. “Class act as always, Raymond. Class act.”

“Hey, I’m just looking out for you. Like I said, shit gets real at the top. You’ve got a position to defend.” This cracks him up.

“Thanks for the support. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d better get to the front lines.”

His laughter lingers even as I turn my back and walk away. It takes everything in me not to throw a middle finger in the air, but there are cameras here, and we both know his fuckery is an expression of endearment. Ray still sees himself as a big dog teasing the runt of the litter, which may be as close to brotherly love as I’m liable to get in this lifetime, so I’ll take it. Let him laugh. We both know this runt is doing just fine.

The dance floor is clear except for a few couples on the periphery still hugging in circles or cycling through their stock sequences of dips and spins—and Elizabeth, of course. All eyes are on my Elizabeth, a slip of fire, red satin fluttering at her feet. In this moment, she is not just desirable. She is desired. And she is mine. Is there anything more seductive than knowing I’m the one they all wish they could be? The political perv has been replaced by Nick Carpenter—all of what, twenty? He rests his fingers on my wife’s lower back. Lizzie twirls under his other hand and lets him spin her toward his chest, where he catches her body and twists with it. They laugh. Guests form a crescent moon around them.

“Excuse me,” I mumble, pushing my way through a crowd that’s nearly an audience. “Coming through.” I say it loud enough to amuse the guests, as though I’m Bogie going after Bacall. People applaud when I cross the shiny parquet floor, tap this kid (who should have shaved) on the shoulder, and say, “May I cut in?”

To his credit, Nick understands that it isn’t a question. He bows and takes his hands off my wife, and he is young and bashful after all. Good on him to take the moment by the balls, but now his moment is over. I grab Elizabeth’s waist and let the room explode with cheers and whistles. As if I’d fired the gun that says go, couples flood the floor for one last slow dance before driving home drunk to pay babysitters on time, or to gossip about who did what when, who looked different and why, how the food was, how the band was, who should be nominated next year, and who should win. Every man will elect himself, and tonight, when they watch their own wives crawl into bed, they’ll wonder if Elizabeth Hart sleeps in stained T-shirts and cotton briefs too, but I’ll be the only one who knows unequivocally that no, she does not.

“I see Ray’s here,” Elizabeth acknowledges. She smiles, as if this pleases her. Anyone watching us now would think we’re talking about someone she likes. “Did you two have a nice chat?”

“He is and we did,” I say. “It was good of him to come.”

“So good. Any lewd comments worth reporting, or is the night still young?”

“Nothing to report,” I lie. “He’s on his best behavior.” Raymond is still leaning against the bar, sipping gin and watching us dance. Elizabeth and I nod in his direction. He raises his glass. Here, here. “See? Perfect gentleman.”

“A regular Prince Charming.” She kisses me on the mouth. Somewhere behind me, a camera flash flares.

“He liked your speech,” I tell her as she twirls out, then back, settling into the nook where my neck and shoulder meet.

“Your speech,” she corrects.

“Said it nearly made him cry.”

“Gauche and sensitive, is he? What a special man.”

“He said the part about my wife being my rock gave him a hard-on.”

She slides her cheek away from mine and gives me that look, and she knows what she’s doing with her little smile, those sleepy eyes. “You liked that, did you?”

With one strong hand on her back and another at her waist, I pull her body closer, pressing her hips into mine. “Yes. I did.” I delight in her act of discovery.

“Wow,” she says. “Everyone’s hot for my speech tonight, huh?”

“My speech,” I whisper.

She brings her lips to my ear and whispers back, “Song’s almost over. You’d better put that thing away.”
Reading Group Guide
This readers group guide for Man of the Year includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Dr. Robert Hart, Sag Harbor’s just-named Man of the Year, is the envy of his friends and neighbors. His medical practice is thriving. He has a beautiful old house and a beautiful new wife and a beautiful boat docked in the village marina. Even his wayward son, Jonah, is back on track, doing well at school, finally worthy of his father’s attentions. So when Jonah’s troubled college roommate, Nick, needs a place to stay for the summer, Hart and his wife generously offer him their guesthouse. A win-win: Jonah will have someone to hang with, and his father can bask in the warm glow of his own generosity.

But when he begins to notice his new houseguest getting a little too close to his wife, the good doctor’s veneer begins to crack. All the little lies Robert tells—harmless falsehoods meant to protect everything he holds dear—begin to mount. Before long, he’s embroiled in a desperate downward spiral, destroying the lives that stand in his way. It’s only the women in his life—his devoted office manager, his friends, his wife—who can clearly see the truth.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. The novel opens with Robert, Elizabeth, and Jonah suffering through a photo shoot at the Citizen of the Year event. Does this initial introduction to Dr. Hart and his family seem like a metaphor for the picture-perfect façade Dr. Hart wishes to present? Discuss how Nick’s inclusion in the final photo symbolizes a disruption in their family dynamic.

2. Recall Robert’s reaction when he sees the family photo in print—both in the newspaper (p. 59) and in the proofs mailed to him toward the end of the book (p. 262). How does his perception of the very same image change as his fears, assumptions, and misconceptions change? What are some other ways in which people see things differently based on their own life experiences and access to information?

3. Discuss Jonah and Robert’s relationship. Is the angst in their father-son dynamic understandable, or does the tension between them seem extraordinarily fraught? Consider in your response Jonah’s remark at the end of Chapter 2 that his father “just isn’t my people” (p. 22).

4. Children—the choice of whether to have kids, the manifestation of love for them, a parent’s responsibility to his or her own, the commitment to childhood friends, a community’s treatment of children, and the intergenerational patterns that either break or repeat—are central themes in the novel. Discuss the many ways in which this theme is explored in Man of the Year. You might consider Raymond and Robert, Kayla, Elizabeth, Jonah, and Nick in your response.

5. In countless ways throughout the novel, Robert claims to have Elizabeth’s best interest at heart, like when he urges her to join the local women’s book club or prods her into hosting a party to honor Nick’s memory. On page 86, Robert says he just wants them to be happy and that it gives him “great pleasure to watch her mull over the possibilities of an idea she now thinks was her own.” Do you think Robert’s desire for Elizabeth’s happiness is genuine, or does he misunderstand power for love? Could there be a different motivation driving Robert’s choices?

6. Robert Hart muses to himself during his unnecessary exam on Nick: “In what other work dynamic must one submit to inspection like this? No banker gets to squeeze another man’s neck without resistance. Architects can’t shove objects down throats without arrest. Doctors, however are expected to do as much and more” (p. 103). Discuss Robert’s work and the ways it shapes his worldview and behavior. How can the same framework be applied to other characters and their jobs: for example, Elizabeth seeing the world through a literary lens?

7. “Today I have a choice: love or hate” (p. 125). Robert repeats this to himself as a kind of mantra. Elizabeth muses on the simultaneously touching and nauseating memory of her ex-husband’s poetry written in her honor. And after Nick’s funeral, his aunt, Naomi, admits to herself that she has “no way of trusting whether the thing I call love isn’t hate in disguise” (p. 183). Explore the thin line between love and hate that so many of the characters straddle in Man of the Year. Consider Jonah in your response too, and the complicated relationship he has with Robert.

8. Revisit the scene beginning on page 145 when Robert first discovers Nick’s body. In light of the novel’s ending, what details do you now notice that you might have missed the first time? Compare this to Elizabeth’s recollection of the morning Nick died (pp. 276–280). How is her reaction different from Robert’s? How is it similar?

9. How does Simone work as a foil in Robert’s story? How does she work as a savior? In many ways, she appears to be the foundational glue that holds his fragile narrative together. Do you think Robert might have been investigated by police if not for Simone’s interference with the blood vials and her covering up on his behalf?

10. Jonah’s false confession to his father turns out to be very useful in helping Dr. Hart cover his own tracks. Does Robert’s willingness to help his son ultimately come from love or from selfishness? Is it possible Robert is equally motivated by both? If so, do you think that makes him a relatable character? Why or why not?

11. Power is a central theme in Man of the Year. The shifting of power dynamics—or the threat of such shifts—causes much of the chaos that ensues in the story, such as Nick’s perceived relationship with Elizabeth, and the complex web of lies Jonah tells his father to undermine his stability. Consider other instances in the novel where a power struggle results in problems for the characters.

12. Another recurring theme concerns rules: who makes them, who abides by them, who benefits from them, who disregards them. On page 45, Luna thinks, “I did everything right . . . yet somehow I’m the one who’s being punished.” Simone tells Dr. Hart, “‘I follow the rules. . . I spend my whole life being a nice girl, thinking one of these days I’ll finish first, but where has it gotten me, huh?’” (p. 153). Officer Diaz says, “My whole life, I’m taught that the only way to be taken seriously is to do my job and do it well. So I do that, and I get here, and the rules change” (pp. 160–161). And Nick’s aunt, Naomi, mocks: “Ever since we were little: be good girls, listen to Mother and Daddy, marry nice boys, obey the law. Trust the men in charge for no other reason than because they’re in charge. Trust your parents because they made you” (p. 183).

Compare these frustrations to Robert’s approach to rules. Consider the story Emily tells on pages 74–75, about the time Robert broke into his high school, then let an innocent classmate take the fall. Why do you think Robert is spared the angst other characters experience in this regard? How do your answers affect your understanding of Elizabeth’s choices as revealed in her confessional at the end of the book?

13. Man of the Year is mostly Robert’s story told from his point of view, and yet several times throughout the novel we are granted access to the perspectives of those around him. Most notably, the novel does not end in Robert’s voice but in Jonah’s. How does this point to the changes that occur throughout the book? Conversely, note the characters whose perspective we never see. Why do you think the author chose to deny us those characters’ voices?

14. On pages 46–47, Robert watches his wife and son set the table, comparing their behavior to performance art. “There are things we can say without reproach when Nick’s in the room. Other things get cut from the scene.” In many ways, the greatest disruption to the Harts’ family dynamic is the “extra set of eyes” (p. 47). Is it natural for people to alter their behavior when they know they are being observed? In what ways do you edit yourself around friends? Colleagues? Family members? Acquaintances?

15. Given the last line of the book, do you think all of Robert’s secrets are safe? What do you think will happen to the Hart family?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Jonah admits to his therapist that the idea to hurt his father came to him when he learned about the life of the famous French author Colette. Read one of Colette’s books—Break of Day, perhaps, or My Mother’s House and Sido—with your book club, just as Elizabeth, Luna, Nick, and Jonah planned to do. Discuss the ways Elizabeth may have seen herself in Colette’s words. What did Elizabeth mean when she said, “The way [Colette] rewrote herself is almost sorcery” (p. 91)? Do you agree with Jonah’s assessment that “the true parts are the most interesting parts, no matter how she edits her story” (p. 290)?

2. In his closing soliloquy, Robert says his actions have all been in service of protecting his family. “In the messes we make, the awakenings, the messes we fix, the lives we choose and the ones we inherit, in the better or worse, the ambiguity and ambivalence, in the things we can never undo and the things undone in effort . . . we are family.” (p. 263). Do you believe Robert succeeded in saving his family? Consider your own family dynamics. Are you dedicated to yours at all costs, like Robert? Or are you afraid of becoming one of your parents, like Jonah? Perhaps you consider your best friends to be family, much like Jonah and Nick, Robert and Ray, or Elizabeth and Shae once did. Share with your book club your feelings about family and friendships over Thai food, drawing upon themes Elizabeth addresses in her monologue at Lemongrass. Your group might share personal anecdotes or partake in a discussion of nature versus nurture over dinner. Talk about being seen as a channel or current rather than a source or charge.

3. On page 286, Elizabeth cites an awareness of Robert looking at her “like Ingrid Bergman in Stromboli. Looking like Ingrid Bergman on Stromboli, for that matter—which is exactly how Luna and Monique see me too, for entirely different reasons.” Host a movie night with your group to watch this classic film, followed by a discussion of the film’s notorious production. Share your thoughts about what Elizabeth may have meant when she talked about how she is seen.

4. Make a playlist of the songs mentioned in this book and host a listening party, taking note of the lyrics. Discuss why you think those songs appear in the story.
About The Author
Photograph by Jimmy Stewart; Blacksuit FM Photography

Caroline Louise Walker grew up in Rock Island, Illinois. For her fiction and nonfiction, she has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, The Kerouac Project, and Jentel Arts. She holds an MA from NYU. Man of the Year is her first novel.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Gallery Books (June 2019)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982100452

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Raves and Reviews

"This is THAT book. You know the one I'm talking about...the one hidden under your teetering should-read, have-to-read, said-I-would-read-months-ago pile. The one you grab at the end of the day because, damnit, you earned this deliciousness, and it reminds you of why you loved reading in the first place. Not only because it's a blisteringly intelligent, breathtaking debut, drenched with a masterful understanding of human nature, brimming with twists, surprises, suspense and razor sharp language, but because it's witty and hilarious and also - long lost thing - the book is a blast to read: it's fun. So go grab a copy and disappear yourself, I'll understand completely." 

 

 

– Erica Ferencik, author of The River at Night

"Beautifully written and deviously plotted—the very best kind of story. Man of the Year is a stellar literary suspense, exploring the chasm between truth and lies, identity, love, hate, and the pursuit of self, and how a moment’s decision can undo a perfect world. Caroline Louise Walker is a remarkable new voice to watch. Give me more!"

 

– J.T. Ellison, New York Times bestselling author of LIE TO ME and TEAR ME APART

“Can you ever trust the cuckoo in the nest? Beautifully written, cleverly structured, and fiendishly plotted, this book should be at the top of every discerning reader’s list.”

 

– Liz Nugent, author of UNRAVELING OLIVER and LYING IN WAIT

"Othello isn’t the only great hero brought low by jealousy, as Caroline Louise Walker’s Man of the Year brilliantly proves. Just when you think you know which of the upstanding doctor’s suspicions to believe, the plot – and human nature – prove you wrong. This is what fiction is for."

 

 

– Lucy Ferriss, author of THE LOST DAUGHTER and A SISTER TO HONOR

Man of The Year is horror that takes place in a familiar setting. Caroline Louise Walker writes with chilling realism about the darkness beneath normality, and her debut ends with a twist you won’t see coming.”

 

– Agnete Friis, New York Times bestselling coauthor of The Boy in the Suitcase

Man of the Year cleverly exposes the fault lines in the seemingly idyllic life of a renowned doctor and his family when an outsider is invited in. Lies and misperceptions quickly spiral out of control, leading to deadly consequences. This dark family thriller will keep you on your toes until the very last page.”    

– Wendy Walker, national bestselling author of THE NIGHT BEFORE

"Caroline Louise Walker's plot drips out chillingly, slowly, inexorably, until the bitter and savage ending."

 

– Mette Ivie Harrison, national bestselling author of The Bishop's Wife

“A darkly beguiling summer mystery that exposes the shaky foundations of a complicated family.”

– Kirkus Reviews

“Searing . . . There are more than a few surprising twists in store in this smart, subtly menacing novel of suspense. Walker is a writer to watch.” 

– Publishers Weekly

"Suspenseful and entertaining . . . The novel's thriller elements, set in the Gone Girl (2012) mold, lay bare the craven depths of depravity to which humans can sink as a cast of narrators, including three unreliable ones, spin and twist the plot between their manipulative fingers. The jolting roller-coaster ride serves double duty as a compelling case study in class and race privilege and the horrifying realities of purely self-serving, transactional relationships."

– Booklist

"This is a slow-burning character study with quite a payoff."

– Refinery29

"There is voyeuristic and considerable pleasure in watching the machinations of [Dr. Robert Hart's] demise."

– CrimeReads

"A superbly twisted story, Man of the Year is not to be missed."

– Women.com

"Man of the Year is an impressive slow burn that builds suspense and cracks the whip at the end . . . A debut redolent with menace and ego, Walker has expertly taken on the complex family dynamic."

– Shelf Awareness, starred review

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