Matt Fry, middle-aged and set in his humdrum ways, wants peace above all else: to coast through his job, to relax by the pool in his south Florida condo, to survive his daughter’s adolescence, and to maintain his twenty-year-old marriage on a fairly even keel. Such, however, is not his fate. The first sign of trouble is the reappearance, after a long and welcome absence, of Matt’s former college roommate Sandor Rossenblum. Matt has long since abandoned his career as a newspaper columnist, but Sandor’s has flourished: with two Pulitzer prizes under his belt, his very existence is an affront; even worse, he hasn’t lost his taste for practical jokes, nor (apparently) for attractive women like Matt’s wife Barb. Sandor wastes no time in insinuating himself back into his old friend’s life.
Things aren’t much quieter at the office. It’s enough that Matt has to contend with the baseball metaphors constantly hurled at him by his boss, Smilin’ Jack, and the vitriol hurled at him by his rival, Snarlin’ Marlon; on top of this, his nubile teenage secretary has discovered that she’s pregnant – with no father in sight – and Matt agrees to help her break the news to her redneck, fundamentalist Christian parents. A host of other people seem to be conspiring to distrurb Matt’s fragile equilibrium. His fifteen-year-old daughter Jess seems to be getting surlier and sluttier by the day; his friend Aaron is exhorting him to engage in extramarital flings; his voluptuous neighbor Anne torments him with her habit of sprawling, nearly naked, by the pool every morning. Then there’s Jerzy Kowalski, the agency’s newest client, who’s invented a new kind of shirt that he thinks will take the fashion world by storm. Matt has to handle this exuberant entrepreneur with kid gloves.
None of this, however, compares to the bombshell that Barb drops on Matt one fine day when she is conveniently out of town. She slaps him with a lawsuit, alleging that the vows they exchanged during their hippie marriage, some twenty years before, compel him to provide her with a second child. Not only is this just about the last thing Matt wants: it would also require him to undergo a reversal of the vasectomy he had not long after Jess’s birth. When she returns home, Barb is intransigent. Nothing Matt says can dissuade her. She advises him to hire an attorney, but Matt knows the deck is stacked against him: a popular public prosecutor, Barb is well-known and well-liked by everyone at the county courthouse. Sandor is delighted with this motherlode of material for his column, and threatens to turn the affair into a major media circus.
Paternity Suit is the story of how Matt survives –or fails to survive – the lawsuit, his friends and family, his job, and his midlife crisis.