Protagonist: Oliver Vice
Setting: New England
On a trip aboard the Queen Mary 2 with his mother, Oliver Vice, 41, disappears. Did he jump overboard, was it an accident, or was it murder? An unnamed narrator who says he was Vice’s closest friend exams his life for clues. Outwardly, Vice, a philosophy professor at Harkness College in New England, was doing well, with a successful career and a string of girlfriends. Yet he had sent the narrator a two-word email from the ship: “Desperately depressed.”
The Vices is no conventional mystery, as the narrator unwinds Oliver’s life, and we are pulled deeper into his story and that of his eccentric, enigmatic family: Francizka Nagy, a former model who can be ruthless, who never quite tells the truth, and who wears her two sons’ Phi Beta Kappa keys on a necklace; Vice’s twin brother, Bartholomew, a gluttonous, slightly unhinged man; and his two fathers -- his “BF,” or biological father, and the Jewish stepfather who raised him. The Vices are well-off, a wealth that is tied to distant crimes, possibly having to do with stolen Nazi art.
Told through wry humor, The Vices is as much a philosophical look at identity. For the Vice family, not everything is as it seems. Oliver, inspired by the Austrian philosopher Wittgenstein, almost mimics parts of his life. Meanwhile, the narrator has an unhealthy obsession with the Vices, to the point of dressing like Oliver; his life, too, comes to be shaped by this family. Ultimately, he does reveal many of the Vices’ secrets. And while not all our questions are answered, it almost doesn’t matter -- we’ve come to know the Vices, and that is enough.