Despite the title of John Blumenthal’s latest novel, it’s not about Millard Fillmore, our thirteenth president. It tells the story of Plato G. Fussell very much a man of modern times. Plato is a Millard Fillmore scholar who doesn’t believe in love.
Plato lives in the cradle of American eccentricity, Los Angeles. His theories about love spring from a difficult adolescence-the other kids called him Play-Doh-a disastrous first marriage and the cumulative affect of his own personality quirks. Obsessed with death, Plato became a multi-millionaire after selling his internet brainchild, Obit.com, to an Australian media mogul.
Struck on the head by an errant frisbee, Plato experiences a sequence of chemical reactions upon meeting Emily Thorndike; Emily is not only beautiful, but she seems to enjoy her encounter with Plato, surviving his Spoonerisms long enough to jot down her phone number.
After a Cat-scan to see if the Frisbee caused a brain tumor, Plato pursues Emily. His theories about love are tossed aside; Emily is an interior designer whose specializes in funeral homes. This could be Plato’s soulmate.
Complications ensue. We meet Plato’s parents, his quiet father, his demanding mother, a woman for whom the bowel movement has become the central thesis of her life. After his father has a heart attack, Plato learns that Emily is concealing an important secret. He attends a class reunion and falls for the same girl he loved in kindergarten.
John Blumenthal has pulled off a neat trick with this novel. Yes, it’s funny. Humor is a dicey thing in books; frequently they are one joke stories that degenerate after a few chapters. This is a novel that sustains both humor and poignancy as we follow Plato’s arc from social recluse to fully developed human being. How Plato arrives at this elevated state and what he does when he gets there supply the fuel to carry the book all the way to the end.
There just aren’t enough novels about Millard Fillmore. Did he have a scandalous affair in Buffalo New York in the decade before the Civil War? Is it worth a trip to Buffalo to find out? Here’s a shortcut. Go get a copy of Millard Fillmore, Mon Amour and decide for yourself.