Herman Koch introduces more of his despicable characters as he leads the reader through a psychological drama of betrayals, deceit, and murder in Summer House with Swimming Pool. If you’ve read Koch’s The Dinner, you know to expect anti-heroes, questionable motives, and the gut wrenching realization that everyone in the story is really pretty horrible underneath their polite veneers.
Dr. Marc Schlosser, a family practitioner, has mastered the art of soothing his patients at any cost – dispensing illegal meds, offering drugs for euthanasia – as he secretly despises them. His thoughts during his perfunctory examinations tend to range from erotic fantasies to repulsion. The book begins with the death of a famous actor, Ralph Meiers, one of Marc’s patients, then backtracks to the summer by the pool to reveal the hidden motivation for revenge and murder. The characters connect at Ralph’s summer house when Marc, his beautiful wife, Caroline, and his two teenage daughters, Julia and Lisa, accept his invitation. Ralph lasciviously eyes Caroline; Marc wants to bed Ralph’s willing wife, Judith; Stanley, a middle-aged film director who is also sharing the summer house with a nubile young starlet, has his own agenda. Ralph’s teenage boys offer comic relief and teenage hormones to the mix, and Koch throws in two rogue characters – the sexy handyman and the owner of a neglected petting zoo – to offer more suspects in the drama.
As in “The Dinner,” Koch firmly settles his characters in their miserable lives, revealing their slimy undercoats before a violent incident suddenly disrupts the soporific summer. Who did it? And, if you think you know, does it justify the Doctor’s actions?
The story – like Koch’s other books, and like Flynn’s “Gone Girl” – is hypnotizing and seductive, but the ending only delivers Koch’s sordid philosophy: believe no one; everyone is evil. Might be a good book to read while lounging around the pool this summer – if you have the stomach for all the nastiness.