The Mortician's Apprentice

Rick DeMarinis, Author W. W. Norton & Company $21 (0p) ISBN 978-0-393-03662-6
DeMarinis's intelligent, engaging, often funny novel--a sort of West Coast, blue-collar Catcher in the Rye --takes satiric aim at '50s Americana while chronicling the maturation of Ozzie Santee. Raised by a casually promiscuous mother and a succession of stepfathers, high-school rebel Ozzie is graduating, unsure of what he wants to do with his life but cynical and pessimistic about his prospects. Even when he is pursued by Colleen Vogel, daughter of San Diego's preeminent mortician, he proves reluctant to set a wedding date and to embrace his fate as her father's apprentice. The Korean War is lurching to a conclusion, but its effects are everywhere: Ozzie's best friend, Art, marries and has a child to avoid the draft; San Diego's economy is dominated by defense dollars; and Art's father is in danger of being deported for suspected subversive activities. DeMarinis accords his characters grace and dignity. Even Colleen, a scheming temptress determined to become a Donna Reed-ish wife, is portrayed with understanding. Yet DeMarinis ( The Year of the Zinc Penny ) is not at the top of his form here. He introduces an alter ego for Ozzie who seems gratuitous to the story; there are too many passages where the momentum dips; and the ending is rushed and anticlimactic. But his mastery of character nuances, his precise and pungent language and the novel's iron-clad sense of time and place make up for a handful of sins. First serial to GQ; author tour. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/01/1994
Release date: 08/01/1994
Genre: Fiction
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