Taking Apart the Poco Poco

Richard Francis, Author
Richard Francis, Author Simon & Schuster $21 (252p) ISBN 978-0-684-80337-1
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This darkly comic novel examines an extraordinary day in the life of one suburban British family. It's John and Margaret's 19th anniversary. John, an assistant bank manager, is preoccupied with buttering up his boss for an upcoming performance review. Margaret, who has discovered a lump on her breast but hasn't told John about it, has an appointment to have it examined. Ann, their smart-alecky teenager, skips school and heads off to a Christian hoedown, and Stephen, the goggle-eyed youngster of the family, sneaks onto a local bus and gets involved with a babbling wino. Both John and Margaret anticipate flings during the course of the day, but refuse them at the last moment. Even the family dog, Raymond, gets into the nuttiness when he manages a clumsy escape. Meanwhile, the Poco Poco, the dance hall where John and Margaret first met, is being demolished. Francis (Swansong; The Whispering Gallery) is a gifted writer with a knack for turn of phrase (an evangelical's dish of food is ``arranged so neatly on her plate that if there was an equals sign you could have given the answer''). His narrative, told in alternating third-person points of view, is filled with exuberant coincidences and imaginative dangers. But there is a hint of ridicule that undercuts the book's pleasures; it's telling that of all the near couplings here, the only one consummated is Raymond's, which ends disastrously. If it weren't written so well, Francis's farce would risk sliding into rant. (May)
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