April 02, 2001 12:00 PM

by Tony Parsons

Getting a comic novel about relationships right is almost as difficult as a relationship itself: What reader hasn’t thought, “You’re ignoring my needs!”? But British writers like Nick Hornby (High Fidelity) and Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones’s Diary) make it look easy, and so does Tony Parsons. Man and Boy, a huge hit in the U.K., takes a routine idea and makes it utterly irresistible. Harry, a London TV producer fond of restaurants where “well-fed people in television put authentic Italian peasant food on their expense accounts,” has just turned 30, so he craves birthday presents that will cost him dearly, including a sports car and a roll in the hay with an office cutie. His wife, whose own dad was a cad, storms off to pursue a career in Japan, leaving Harry alone with their toddler son Pat. Can a whiny, immature brat (and his 4-year-old son) learn how to feed themselves? Meanwhile Harry, who feels like “an ambassador for all the defective males in the world,” loses his job and tries to understand his own father. The dad is a decorated WWII vet—”His youth might have been marred by the efforts of the German army to murder him, but at least in his day a father’s role was set in stone”—whose hobbies include gardening and hog-tying would-be burglars. Harry and Pat have a lot of growing up to do; Harry’s dad is simply growing old. Parsons, a BBC-TV host, is sad and funny, frequently in the same sentence, as he maps out the ways people who love each other can find themselves adversaries. Cynics will call the book too sweet—just before they close the curtains and wipe away a tear. (Sourcebooks Landmark, $21)

Bottom Line: Winning tale of loss

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