THE WORLD'S ROOM

Todd London, Author
Todd London, Author . Steerforth $24 (350p) ISBN 978-1-58642-022-2
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"When my brother hanged himself in a shower stall at St. Elizabeth's, I took his name," writes Erich, London's teenage protagonist, by way of introduction. Composed as a memoir in three parts, this tragic family drama is told with sarcasm and poignant honesty. In the summer of 1967, Lorna, a willful, needy bohemian, takes her three children and leaves her husband, Willy, a Columbia philosophy professor, to crisscross the country in search of new careers, men, religions, collectibles and whatever else strikes her fancy. "Our journey," Erich recalls, "finally read like a monitor that charts the heart rates of patients in a stress test: up, down, across, up, up, down, across, down, down." Erich's sister, Deborah, distances herself with hippie boyfriends and immersion in various religions. Erich's brother, Erich—the original, "real" Erich—takes his own life. Endowed with his brother's name and dark legacy, Erich grows up with his identity in quotation marks, "on leave from the world—between lives." London—an award-winning theater critic—has a magnificent sense of character and ear for dialogue, each family member captured succinctly and naturally via small gestures, grand rants and vivid soliloquies (considering his sister's wedding cake, Erich observes, "In the middle rose a white plastic pedestal, on which kneeled two figurines, a bride and a groom, heads bowed in prayer or thanks or, just possibly, despair"). This engaging and crafty debut establishes London as a writer to watch. (May)

Forecast:Those who enjoyed Mona Simpson's Anywhere but Here or Martha McPhee's Bright Angel Time will appreciate this similarly themed tale from a male perspective.

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