cover image Spider


Patrick McGrath. Poseidon Press, $18.45 (221pp) ISBN 978-0-671-66510-4

McGrath here pares away the campy, macabre elements of his previous works ( Blood and Water and Other Tales ; The Grotesque ) in favor of a closely observed study of madness, memory and storytelling . Dennis Clegg, affectionately nicknamed Spider by his mother, returns to his London neighborhood after 20 years in a mental hospital and begins a journal to ``create some order in the jumble of memories''--that is, to unravel the murky circumstances surrounding his mother's murder. This crime, he contends, was committed by his father, but has been pinned on Spider. Through lucid, poetically charged reconstructions, we are introduced to an unhappy family triad: alcoholic father, passive mother and an only child who becomes increasingly delusional. In Spider's telling, the truth of things is elusive, but the stormy wonder of the prose--Spider describes himself as a ``baggy, threadbare sort of a customer, really--my clothes have always seemed to flap about me like sailcloth, like sheets and shrouds . . . and they always look vacant, untenanted . . . as though I were nothing and the clothes were clinging merely to an idea of a man''--perfectly conveys the roiling vertigo of mental illness along with the clarity it often incites. Spider's unreliability as narrator deepens McGrath's portrait of an unfathomable reality and preserves the refinements of his philosophical skepticism. An admixture of Poe and the comic vulnerabilities of Beckett, this tale lingers long and disturbingly in the mind. (Oct.).