Banjo Grease

Dennis Must, Author
Dennis Must, Author Creative Arts Book Company $13.95 (190p) ISBN 978-0-88739-228-3
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Almost half of the 16 stories in Must's debut collection feature Westley Daugherty, a young man living in blue-collar, 1960s Hebron, Pa., but while this character and setting become familiar, the book still lacks cohesion. In the opening story, ""Escape,"" Daugherty affects both the high-flown vocabulary of the Harvard Divinity school student he hopes to be (Must himself studied theology) and the dialect of the country bumpkin he really is. Initially, the young man refers to his parent as ""Father,"" but gives himself away when he slips into the vernacular ""Pap."" While such a shift might indicate Daugherty's uncertainty and his search for identity, it is a trademark of undeveloped characters throughout the collection. The title story describes Westley's surprise visit to the trailer home of his Aunt Min and Uncle George, who run the Skyline Drive-In Theatre. Sketchy details of his relatives' lives are offered piecemeal, none of them adding up to a full picture of the couple: the book's title is gleaned from an awkward anecdote about Min and George's genitalia burned by ""banjo grease."" Piano prodigy Buddy Hart stars in two entries, which both suffer from awkward phrasing, obscuring the obvious question of whether the kid will make the big time or not. The focus of the quirky and original ""Big Whitey"" is on Cyrus Quinn, a downtrodden man who finds a mentor at his new job cooking burgers at a White Castle. Much of the dialogue in this story is satisfyingly humorous, although this tale, too, is rife with murky moments that drain the protagonist of his credibility. Themes of castration, genital maiming and the Madonna/whore stereotype keep the book's male protagonists occupied, but the fragmented, meandering prose drains these obsessions of their potential psychological power. (Feb.)
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