The Anatomy Lesson

John David Morley, Author St. Martin's Press $21.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-312-13426-6
The first half of this resonant, witty, emotionally rich novel limns the dysfunctional relationship between the narrator, Kiddo, a half-American teen self-exiled to his father's native Amsterdam, and Kiddo's older brother, Morton, a genius inventor. Though Kiddo and Morton manage to sublimate their intense rivalry and learn to rely on each other, Kiddo feels inferior to his brilliant sibling. At 16, Kiddo loses his virginity to the mixed-up Pietje--and Morton is right there on the bed, pitching in. But Kiddo doesn't mind: ``With Pietje between us, I feel equal for the first time. Triangular's not the word for a thing without corners. This is smooth and round, a perfectly circular relationship.'' Soon, however, Morton moves back to America and contracts cancer, leading to an astonishing set piece: a grueling description of Morton's autopsy as observed by Kiddo, Pietje and a handful of their friends. The novel's second, less compelling, half is given over to how, through Pietje and a tell-all letter from Morton, Kiddo comes to understand that although he and Morton, as Pietje says, ``put on this brotherly act... deep down they hate each other's guts.'' Morley is a marvelous writer, and his central metaphor--the eponymous Rembrandt painting depicting an autopsy--makes the narrative reverberate with meaning. Still, one wishes that an author this talented had found less familiar angles to his characters than sibling rivalry and first love. Two photographs--not seen by PW. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/1995
Release date: 09/01/1995
Genre: Fiction
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