The Lament family is peripatetic in the extreme, traveling around the world, settling briefly, before heading off again in search of a place that fits them better than the one that they are in. Opening with the birth of their first son, a fat and happy little boy, there is no doubt that the family's luck is all going to be bad or impossible from the moment a mentally disturbed woman whose own infant is sickly and melancholy kidnaps the cheery and chubby Lament baby instead of accepting her own. The only recourse, of course, is to adopt her son and pretend that he is their biological child. Will, the secretly adopted Lament, spends the next many years trying to fit in with his boisterous and rambunctious family. His struggle to fit in is a mirror in miniature of his family's quest to fit in as they move from Rhodesia to Bahrain, England, and America. Father Howard is a creative and frustrated engineer with a strange affinity for valves while mother Julia is an artistic and somewhat apathetic sort. The twins, who have a deep and unexplainable twin connection, are hellions and apt to create chaos and leave upheaval in their wakes no matter where the family lives.
The Laments start out the book full of hopes and aspirations, unrealistic though they may be, and they end it rather more downtrodden and definitely downwardly mobile than they started it. On the whole, the book is a tragedy but there is such wonderful dry humor and forthright writing in it that it is nothing but a pleasure to read. I truly did laugh out loud in more than one instance and if the terrible happenings quotient is higher than I'd usually find realistic, it is entertaining all the way. The characters are quirky and eccentric but they inspire great sympathy in the reader as they go through their lives. Exaggeration is rife and the explicit social commentary is hard to miss but even though I suspect Hagen of condemning my life, I still thoroughly enjoyed his novel.