Half of the delight in Emily Culliton’s wholly delightful debut novel, The Misfortune of Marion Palm, lies in the way the book, like its title character, defies expectations at every turn ...Marion’s ordinary appearance and her extraordinary talent for appropriating other people’s money, are fundamental to her character and therefore to the book’s designs ... The plot, taken together with the novel’s short, immersive chapters and the escalating risks that confront Marion and her family, locates The Misfortune of Marion Palm somewhere on the thriller continuum ...the book is also sunnier than that suggests, part satire and part Odyssey into the humbler precincts of Brooklyn...skip from past to present and from character to character as if Culliton had carefully plotted the novel on a stack of index cards and then flung the whole thing into the air ... All of this makes for a witty, sneakily feminist kind of crime story.
Although Culliton has set her cranky and humorous debut novel in the borough of her birth, she avoids the pratfalls of her peers ... Culliton aims to expose the lie of polite society, Brooklyn-based or otherwise, its barely suppressed derangements and contradictions. Locked within each character: an ugly secret self she tries feverishly to suppress, one fomented by her poisonous surroundings...Culliton delights in ripping masks clean off ... Although Nathan’s character could fall easily into parody or cliché, his profound confusion and deep denial help lend pathos to the story. 'Perhaps it’s now time to discuss Marion,' he muses, days after her disappearance. 'Maybe this will sort itself out.' Spoiler: It does in a fashion, in a way that won’t allow Nathan, nor we readers, to soon forget it.
...funny, pointed and very smart. With its madcap plot (embezzling mom goes on the lam), its dry tone, and its sly digs at upper-crust culture, the book does for Brooklyn what the novels of Maria Semple do for Seattle. The title character, Marion Palm, has no apparent moral center and few likable qualities, and yet you will root hard for her — Culliton is that good at revealing what makes her tick, earning Marion our empathy, if not our admiration ... This is a hugely entertaining book, a page-turner, laugh-out-loud funny in some parts. But it is also a study in loneliness and family dysfunction, selfishness, motherhood (and fatherhood), and the sad way that it is so easy for anyone — homely or not — to be rendered invisible.
By far and away, the most compelling character is the eponymous anti-heroine Marion. Once in hiding, she 'prizes her own ability to coordinate, once wasted on PTA functions and her husband’s literary readings.' Marion can be a shrewd and steely criminal, but Culliton limns out Marion’s history, linking every bad decision back to the college education that intelligent Marion didn’t get or a bad waitressing job in her 20s. Culliton doesn’t excuse Marion, but she makes a complex character sympathetic and humorous. The Misfortune of Marion Palm is a screwball comedy of a novel for current times.
Culliton’s assured and clever novel reads more like that of a seasoned novelist than a debut ... Culliton tempers her generally unlikable characters with short chapters, often under three pages; omniscient third-person narration; and oddly comic—think Miranda July—writing. Readers who have wished the narration of The Royal Tenenbaums was an actual book need look no further than The Misfortune of Marion Palm.
...[a] wonderful and sharp debut ... Culliton’s prose is effortless and wickedly clever; its ability to condone and condemn in the most succinct way is a testament to the author’s storytelling and characterization skills. Moments of empathy are erased by Marion’s entitlement, and her vanishing act is curiously irresistible. This debut novel signals the arrival of an exciting talent.