Galt Niederhoffer's clever debut opens with an alliterative tidal wave as sisters Bell, Bridget, Beth, Belinda, Beryl and Benita converge at their father's Upper East Side apartment for Passover dinner. Patriarch Barry Barnacle, having no male heir and believing above all in the tenet of survival of the fittest, has gathered his girls to announce a contest: whichever sister can immortalize the family name will inherit the fortune Barry earned working his way to his current position as the Pantyhose Prince of New York.
The confusing sea of B names into which readers are thrown gradually becomes clearer as the girls each react distinctly to the announced challenge. The eldest at 29, Bell has a shot at winning by revealing her unplanned pregnancy. Not to be outdone, 16-year-old Belinda picks up a straggly teenager on the subway and brings him home as her fiancÅ½. Meanwhile, Benita the youngest schemes to capture what she believes to be her father's old pet monkey from its current captivity at the Central Park Zoo. Thirteen-year-old Beryl enters a school talent show, hoping to win her inheritance by achieving fame, but quickly focuses more on her talent show rival than the familial contest. Within the framework of Barry's contest is the true heart of the novel: the relationship between Bell and 26-year-old Bridget and the handsome identical twins, Billy and Blaine, who live next door. Neiderhoffer uses a dexterous series of baseball metaphors and ingeniously twin scenes for the two young couples repeating a few of the same scenes twice to underscore similarities in character but the metaphorical spine of the book is the theory of evolution. The contest is Barry's way of finding if his Barnacles will indeed adapt, and the result is a madcap story of constant, wicked fun. One hopes that independent film producer Niedehoffer will quickly make a movie of her own tale, allowing nature and nurture to battle it out on the big screen. Iris Blasi is a writer in New York City.