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Something Cool from Red Hot

Something Cool from Red Hot summary

Set in a mid-sized, Texas city circa 1998, the story presents the world of Jim Monroe, 46.

Just as he feels comfortable with his many roles (husband, father, son, brother, employer), he has to deal with failure, disappointment and death.

As the novel opens, Jim appears to be at the top of his game.  He’s president of his own advertising agency. The book’s title comes from one of his ad campaigns. He’s a loving husband and father. His wife is his best friend and partner in trying to understand their two teenage children. He’s a scratch golfer, too. Golf is Jim’s metaphor for life: doing well depends on skill, hard work, and blind, stupid luck. The novel has eighteen chapters, begins with a game at the country club with an obnoxious client, and ends with a round at the public golf course with his son, Eddie.

Golf is something Jim has in common with his dying father, Ed Monroe. As Ed’s health declines, he grows increasingly bitter and irreverent, especially toward his older son, Rev. Bill Monroe, a Presbyterian minister “at the largest non-Baptist Protestant church in the city.  Ed also imagines that his long-dead mistress has come back to life, and he asks Jim to find her for him. The reader gets some insight into Ed’s character through his poems, which appear at the beginning of each chapter.

The novel shows how important work is in Jim’s life.  The story follows him and his junior creative team (he has fired his best copywriter and art director for having sex in the conference room) as they develop a campaign to win the Alamo HMO account.  In running the agency, Jim has to submit to the indignities of providing a service that delivers only “subjective value.” He has to beg for credit from Mark Woodnickel, a TV station manager and Jim’s college roommate. After losing the Red Hot Grill account, he shouts at another client (the gold chain-wearing discount jeweler, Mitch McCloud) in a crowded restaurant.  Two days later, Mitch’s body is found floating in the town lake with a bullet hole through his eye. No, the novel doesn’t devolve into a murder mystery, but Jim does get interrogated twice by a blind, female police detective who affectionately calls her sergeant “Eye Dog.”

Throughout the story, Jim tries his best to make a difference for his family.  His wife Mary Ellen is the most important person in his life, and he is desperate to keep the house on top of Pecan Hill that she loves so much.  He patiently endures his daughter Caroline’s scorn at his “not exactly moral” occupation and he retrieves her from a drunken frat party at the University of Texas. And he worries about his son Eddie because he has a crush on Caroline’s excruciatingly pretty friend, Tiffany.  Jim encourages his brother to visit their dad before it’s too late, and he listens to his sister-in-law complain about her boring existence as the minister’s wife.  And he has to withstand his mother’s resentment against him for being somehow complicit in his father’s betrayal of her.

In the end, Jim loses his business, takes a public relations job at the Light Company on Woodnickel’s recommendation, and moves his family to live with his mother in the “charmless box” of a house where he grew up. Yet, it’s not an unhappy ending.  The story portrays the fragility of everything Jim values, it shows how love can center us or send us astray, and it proves that families can be – by turns – sources of exasperation, pain and joy.  And if we’re lucky, as Jim is, we meet and marry the right person.

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