The Night Bird Cantata

Donald Rawley, Author William Morrow & Company $23 (245p) ISBN 978-0-380-97609-6
A highly effeminate man looks back on the summer of 1968, when he was 10, in this lush, shamelessly overwrought first novel from Pushcart Prize winner Rawley, a poet and contributing editor at Buzz. L.P. Fowler's mother and grandmother (the latter ""a tarantula in mink"") have left him behind in sweltering Phoenix in the care of his grandmother's maid, Betty. Stymied by such artifacts of masculinity as baseball mitts, L.P. finds the unnatural role of ""boy"" nearly impossible to play and dreams instead of becoming a beautiful actress. A sensitive child, to put it mildly, L.P. suffers from ecstatic confrontations with beauty. At a flower nursery, for instance, he rolls ""into a gully of crushed and trampled flowers"" and emerges ""covered with pollen and sap. I was pink and lavender and bright yellow. My hair was covered with leaves and dust and my clothes were smeared with manure."" If few readers will easily swallow ""a day of lilacs and graves,"" or a sun that turns the sky ""a Frank Sinatra orange,"" Rawley is more affecting when he turns his attention to Betty--a woman hardened by a loveless marriage of convenience, the blithe racism of her employers and a thwarted singing career. As the summer unfolds, she becomes a surrogate mother to L.P., whom she loves for, rather than in spite of, the passions that animate him. First serial to American Short Fiction; Agent: Noah Lukeman; author tour. (July)
Reviewed on: 06/29/1998
Release date: 07/01/1998
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