The Brooklyn Book of the Dead

Michael Stephens, Author
Michael Stephens, Author Dalkey Archive Press $19.95 (228p) ISBN 978-1-56478-037-9
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In this sequel to The Season of Coole , the Brooklyn funeral of J. Leland Coole, retired Irish-American customs inspector, draws all 16 of his children to the casket, and the surge of common memory among the survivors gives family values an awful beating. The force compelling the Cooles to gather by the ``rotten old bastard,'' whose ``voice alone set off all the old post-traumatic shock syndromes,'' is a legacy of his brutal fathering. But expect no standard gropings for self-knowledge, confessions of failure, love-hate ordeals or other genre cliches here--the situation is far beyond conventional remedy. The 10 boys, in or approaching middle age, are criminals, alcoholics, addicts and thugs; the six girls express the family psychosis more passively, but share it. Stephens's stream-of-consciousness blend of anecdote and recollection, psychologically real and stylistically natural, dominates his unplotted narrative, which moves among the 16 figures, probing their failures to forge any sense of moral accountability. Remarkably, although idiosyncrasies are noted, the 16 do not distinguish themselves particularly as characters; they register clearly only as elements in the collective dysfunction. Even more remarkably, the account is witty, thoughtful and absorbingly readable, as well as an important study of urban violence. (Mar.)
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