cover image The Dork of Cork

The Dork of Cork

Chet Raymo. Warner Books, $11.99 (354pp) ISBN 978-0-446-51706-5

``Begin with beauty,'' commands the opening sentence of this powerful novel, suffused with a 19th-century Romantic sensibility; its trite, although heartfelt, closing plea--``Hold me''--encapsulates the narrative's shift in focus from wide-ranging contemplation to the personal realization of love. Set in Cork, Ireland, this philosophic, imaginatively plotted tale is narrated by Frank Bois, a 43-year-old dwarf who has just completed a semi-autobiographical book. In a rambling internal dialogue he reminisces about the events his volume covers: his birth after WW II; his emotionally distant mother, who took many lovers; and his early decision to sublimate his sexuality (after a prostitute told him, ``Be gone, ye little dork'') by immersing himself in a passion for the moon and stars. Frank interrupts the chronological narrative with personal meditations, some about his writing career; he considers his book a literary freak show, knowing that people are amazed by his appreciation of beauty because, to them, he represents ugliness. Raymo ( In the Falcon's Claw ) so skillfully manipulates the author-within-an-author narration that it's easy to forget that Frank is a fictional entity. His unique, epiphanic and bluntly truthful story forces a reconsideration of the beautiful and the grotesque. ( May )