Born Burning

Thomas Sullivan, Author Dutton Books $18.95 (262p) ISBN 978-0-525-24782-1
This horror novel would be almost funny if it weren't so tedious and contrived. Sullivan's ( The Phases of Harry Moon ) instrument of doom is an armchair carved from teakwood in ancient China and presented to the emperor, to whom it brought ill luck. Passed down through the centuries, it reaches the home of the Whitehall family in Michigan. This pretentious clan has invented a ceremony to mark patriarchal succession: at age seven, the first-born male child is invited to sit in the chair. The child, however, always dies. While most families would think twice about keeping such a baleful piece of furniture, much less venerating it as an icon, the Whitehalls continue the tradition until almost no offspring are left. Little Joey Whitehall wisely refuses to take his turn in the chair; he seems to be the only one to connect his older brother's disappearance with the birthday ritual. But when Joey's father suddenly drowns, his uncle Lucien enters the scene to force the stubborn child to submit. Lucien, it turns out, is a magician who wants to inherit the chair so he can harness its powers. The final showdown between uncle and nephew is bland beyond words. Born Burning fizzles without even a spark of credibility or interest. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/01/1989
Release date: 08/01/1989
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