Mrs. Ted Bliss is the last novel Elkin published before he died. Elkin was always attuned to the wantings and wasting of the body and its connections to the body politic within and against which his characters measured their successes and, more usually, their failings. In his earlier novel, The Franchiser, Elkin focuses on a man stricken in his prime with MS (after inheriting a fortune from his godfather) and sets Ben Flesh’s cross-country travels against the backdrop of Ben’s own unraveling myelin and the nation’s energy crisis. Mrs. Ted Bliss is, as the title character’s name indicates, no less ironically allegorical but far more retrospective, even elegiac. Published in the middle of the roaring 1990’s with its soaring stock market, Mrs. Ted Bliss offers a sobering and highly affecting memento mori, made all the vivid by Elkin’s characteristically pyrotechnic prose.
This time the pyrotechnics are more subdued, as befits the novel’s aging main character, carefully doled out like a widow’s savings. Not that Mrs. Ted Bliss is financially strapped; she is merely at a loss following the death of the husband—a butcher, a dealer in flesh, sold by the pound—who, like many men of his generation, had done everything for their wives except, naturally, prepare them for widowhood. Dorothy’s story is a bit of Americana, a Jewish urbanized version of American Gothic, a rags-to-riches tale that takes her from Russia to Chicago and finally to Miami Beach where, at novel’s end, she awaits the coming of...
(The entire section is 637 words.)