ALBERT, HIMSELF

Bodil Jonsson, Author, Tiina Nunnally, Translator
Bodil Jonsson, Author, Tiina Nunnally, Translator , trans. from the Swedish by Tiina Nunnally. Harcourt $13 (160p) ISBN 978-0-15-100539-0
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-1-57453-434-4
Paperback - 160 pages - 978-0-15-600760-3
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The charming protagonist of this slight first novel, a chubby, kindhearted sad sack of a fishmonger named Albert Fitzmorris, lives with his widowed mother in working-class Irish New Orleans. His three-year-old daughter, Audrey, lives with her mother Eileen, a self-centered ex-girlfriend of Albert's, and Eileen's new boyfriend, a jazz trumpeter who has begun to replace Albert in Audrey's affections. Albert feels pressure from his mother and his father's conservative Catholic friends to marry Eileen, but can't bring himself to admit that she has left him. As the novel opens, he catches sight of a beautiful blond restaurant hostess named Chelsea and is compelled to pursue her. This ill-fated courtship eventually changes Albert, helping him to assert his individuality and keep a place in his daughter's life. Albert is a sweet, gentle character, the sort of bumbling innocent to be rooted for with one eye closed. The other characters, though, never fully take shape except as foils for Albert's haplessness, in part because Bens' dialogue is often hackneyed. The novel alternates somewhat haphazardly between no-frills narrative and shorthand, staccato layering of sentence fragments: "Spraying fish guts from the steel counter into the sink. Not minding the fish, the smell he was raised with. But the boredom." This style sometimes works, particularly in Bens' description of food: "Chops and the smell of fresh mint, the bubble of thick chowder in two deep pots, the scent of sweet onion and flames leaping around panfulls of fat shrimp..." The omission of parts of speech eventually becomes irritating, though, too precious for the simplicity of the plot and characters. There's some nice local color here, but the story and dialogue aren't meaty enough to thicken this broth into a satisfying gumbo. (Aug.)

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