The Museum of Love

Steven Weiner, Author
Steven Weiner, Author Overlook Press $21.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-87951-531-7
Reviewed on: 02/28/1994
Release date: 03/01/1994
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-87951-583-6
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Jean-Michel Verhaeren, an adolescent in a depressed French-Canadian town on the shores of Lake Superior, is the protagonist of this bizarre but impressive first novel. Jean's father is an unemployed prison guard; his mother, a morphine addict who has divine visions, is a janitor at a nursing home; and his brother, Ignace, is well on his way to becoming a saint. The Verhaerens are truly a strange lot--and Jean is as strange as any of them. He's the leader of a gang of not-quite-hoodlums, an obsessive when it comes to the subject of death and a fellow whose sexual orientation, as a friend puts it, is to ``butter his bread on both sides.'' When Jean burns down a wing of his Catholic school, he's sent to the reformatory, where the British boys beat and abuse him. Weiner's prose is lucid and startling, and he avoids the fey, New Age tendencies of many practitioners of magic realism, instead forging an industrial, fire-and-brimstone variety whose surreal imagery is spare and shocking. But the novel is relentless in its bleakness, and the mix of disparate elements--spirits taking flight as birds, contrasted with the grim Acadian setting--proves not to be as felicitous as one would expect. (Mar.)
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