Not since Flaubert’s L’Éducation Sentimentale has a book so poignantly described man’s helplessness in the face of woman. In this novel of sexual edification, the narrator (who may or may not be the author) recounts his experiences with eleven fascinating women — all of whom happen to be named Karen.
In an attempt to explain this statistical anomaly, Peter Lefcourt takes us on a journey that begins in the fifth grade, when he is the groom at his own shotgun wedding, and ends in his early middle years, when he has a very short but nonetheless searing assignation in a hotel room in Paris with a woman whom he bumps into in a museum backing away from one of Monet’s water lilies.
In between, his Karens include a high school cheerleader who teaches him how to run the bases; a disciple of Margaret Mead whom he meets playing volleyball in a nudist camp in Pennsylvania; a student at an exclusive prep school in Manhattan who drops her clothes out his hotel room window; a lovely Italian with Monica Vitti eyes who steals his heart on the via Appia Antica in Rome; a blind poet with a dog named García Lorca whom he picks up in his cab on a rainy night in New York; an African capitalist who literally takes the shirt off his back in Togo; a waitress who appropriates his sperm in Quebec; a Strip Scrabble hustler who takes public showers in a bar on Canal Street; and an actress in L.A. who can’t decide whether she is Vivien Leigh or Joan Collins.
Painstakingly researched, with eighty-eight footnotes to provide historical context and ironic counterpoint, Eleven Karens is a coming of age story and a fervent homage to women — a beach-read Bildungsroman observed through the delightfully cracked lens of one the most unique comic voices writing today.