cover image Helping Verbs of the Heart

Helping Verbs of the Heart

Peter Esterhazy. Grove/Atlantic, $14.95 (111pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1123-4

The main narrative thread of this self-consciously avant-garde novella is a fairly straightforward account of the death of the narrator's mother. A subtext consists of emotional observations about the event, which take the form of random jottings. Mother is incarcerated in a nightmarishly described hospital, ministered to by nurses whose sexuality is barely confined by their tight uniforms and attended by a doctor whose treatment comes just shy of mercy killing. After the tasteful funeral, in which the surviving family is consoled by a bewildering array of relatives, the narrator is visited by his mother's ghost, who vehemently asserts that he is the one who has died. ``Mother'' 's hallucinatory descriptions of her life as a young girl and woman are juxtaposed with a painfully real flashback of hospital life. Known for his controversial subject matter, Esterhazy is one of Hungary's best-known writers; this is the first of his books to be published in English. (Dec.)