CUTTY, ONE ROCK: Low Characters and Strange Places, Gently Explained

August Kleinzahler, Author
August Kleinzahler, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $18 (168p) ISBN 978-0-374-13377-1
Reviewed on: 09/20/2004
Release date: 11/01/2004

In these nine autobiographical essays, most of which first appeared in the London Review of Books , poet Kleinzahler (A Calendar of Airs , etc.) writes from the perspective that an "unfriendly room" is a "sanctuary." Kleinzahler was the youngest of three children growing up in a Mafia-ridden New Jersey neighborhood in the 1950s. His father had an "unpredictable disposition" and his mother "didn't like children, least of all her own"; thus young Augie was raised, "in lieu of parents," by the family dog. Such challenging beginnings have forged a complex voice, both bitter ("The entire nation sucking from the same teat, a teat with a Nike swoosh and dripping Diet Coke") and lyrically meditative ("the morning's first streetcar comes out of the tunnel before dawn... this is my rough carillon"). A few of the book's early essays wander, failing to strike a balance between topic and tone, but Kleinzahler saves his strongest essays for the end. In "Eros & Poetry," he uses stunning examples, from Chaucer to Dylan Thomas, to prove how love and passion "awaken us to the pulse of poetry and dance...." And the final, eponymous piece is a moving elegy to Kleinzahler's older brother, a gambling homosexual gangster, who, in the 1970s, shared his secret life with the author as if to gain witness to—and record—his brief but extraordinary life. (Nov.)

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