Terms & Conditions, the first novel from promising author Robert Glancy, is a mystery tale unraveled through the frequent use of footnotes. While this may not seem like the pitch for an engrossing storyline, Glancy’s witty tone and keen insight into human nature help make this book not just readable but highly enjoyable.*
We meet the narrator, Frank Shaw, as he is awakening in a hospital bed after a car crash. Suffering from temporary amnesia, he does not recognize his own wife and brother, nor does he remember much at all about his pre-crash life. If this plot seems like a soap-opera cliché, fear not—Frank’s humor as he notes the absurdity of the situation is immediately apparent, and this helps make him a character well worth exploring.
Slowly the reader, along with Frank, learns about his pre-accident life, including his monotonous job as a contract lawyer (hence the attraction to footnotes), his marriage to the beautiful but icy Alice, and his relationship with his corpulent and obnoxious brother Oscar, for whom he works at the family firm. As might be expected, Frank comes to realize things in his life are not as they appear; his journey, while always funny, also proves to be quite poignant.
One of the most compelling characters in the book, Frank’s younger brother, Malc, appears mostly through email correspondence. A free spirit indulging his wanderlust in countries across the globe, Malcom acts as a bit of a sage for Frank, constantly touting his lifelong philosophy: “F___ this.” If Shaw writes another novel, I’d love to see Malc as a main character.
The main criticism to be noted here comes toward the end, when the events immediately preceding Frank’s accident are described. The timeline here gets a bit muddied, and readers may want more detail. But the conclusion (which adheres to Malc’s unorthodox philosophy) is wholly satisfying.
*And the footnotes are, in fact, one of the most amusing aspects of the book.