Before and After: Poems

Charlie Smith, Author
Charlie Smith, Author W. W. Norton & Company $22.5 (62p) ISBN 978-0-393-03775-3
Reviewed on: 05/01/1995
Release date: 05/01/1995
With the unadorned acuity that is his signature, novelist and poet Smith (The Palms; The Lives of the Dead) describes the ruins of family life in contemporary America. The voice is that of a son, moderate in all things (including success) and nearing middle age. Beginning in the family cemetery, where a suicidal cousin ``mans the frontier of our plot,'' the tour winds across recognizable terrain: the family house and business, breakdowns and heart attacks, divorces and new spouses. Family members become figures in a larger drama in Smith's convincing and unforgiving--of himself, of them--voice. The cordial, hardworking father enforces his will until he becomes Lear-like: ``some silly king of the air,/ useless, ordering nothing.'' The protective mother, recalling O'Neill's women characters, is opposed by her disdainful sons: ``We didn't need some shabby partisan/ to save us from our escapades.'' The only long poem, ``At Five in the Afternoon,'' dealing with the mother's insanity, much like Ginsberg's Kaddish, is the weakest in an otherwise glittering, forceful collection. (May)
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