by Paul Rudnick
When Joe Reckler and his mother, Hedy, and aunts Pola and Ida, known collectively as the Esker sisters, ask each other what’s new, they’re not seeking an update on current events: They want to know what has just been purchased. A couch, a coat, a car, maybe a set of coasters, it matters little to Joe and his family. All acquisitions are worth being exclaimed over; the purchasers are to be complimented on their good taste and ability to spot a good deal. Diogenes and his search for the honest man had nothing on the Esker sisters and their search for an honest bargain.
I’ll Take It is a very funny picaresque about shopping and, in fact, about shoplifting. Joe, a Yale graduate, as his mother is proud to brag to people, is a pickpocket and a thief. His particular passion is shopping for (read stealing) clothes: “Shopping for clothes felt like sex, with a comparable cycle of foreplay, orgasm and afterglow. If Joe had smoked, he would always have languorously puffed a cigarette after hitting the menswear departments.”
Like son, like mother. Mrs. Reckler steals items from stores (in her terms she is a person who shops without money), and over the years has amassed such booty as a complete boxed set of Gilbert and Sullivan recordings, a Steuben punch bowl and a home computer for her husband. Mrs. Reckler’s latest project on a trip to Vermont and Maine is to steal $10,000 in cash from L.L. Bean to finance redecoration of her living room. “I’ve ordered things from the Bean catalog for years,” she says by way of justification. “I’m a very loyal customer. It’s like a rebate.”
Even for Joe, this is a bit much. “You are asking me to walk into L.L. Bean and terrorize people with a revolver,” he says.
“Five minutes out of your day,” says Mrs. Reckler.
In the course of the journey, ostensibly to see the fall foliage, mother, son and aunts manage to stop at every outlet store in the Northeast corridor. The four musketeers shop without money for a soup tureen and move on to the grandly larcenous: a sable coat and a large white, wonderfully vulgar limousine. At L.L. Bean, of course, there are some tough choices to be made. “I love their things,” Aunt Pola, the voice of sanity with a large purse, wistfully notes of the Bean Freeport, Maine, outpost. “You know, part of me wishes we weren’t robbing the place. Then we could browse.”
I’ll Take It is overstocked with metaphors and similes. Every chapter comes with half a dozen new ways to describe the Esker sisters. On a single page they are characterized as a squawking, cooking Long Island Philharmonic, as goddesses of the marketplace, as wild seeresses in a woodcut, as uncompromising women with scant use for guile or mascara.
But Rudnick sings a wonderful song of shopping and familial love and solidarity. Read this book, even if you have to pay for it. (Knopf, $18.95)