cover image If You Want Me to Stay

If You Want Me to Stay

Michael Parker, . . Algonquin, $22.95 (177pp) ISBN 978-1-56512-484-4

Writing in a Faulknerian first person that conveys the 14-year-old protagonist's mental escape artistry, Parker (Hello Down There ) explores the bonds of a family wracked by mental illness and abandonment in this fully realized fourth novel. In the 1970s rural South, Joel Dunn Jr. takes care of his two younger brothers, Tank and Carter, whenever his father "goes off" and, for example, exorcises their TV. Their mother has long since left for parts unknown; older sister Angie has also bolted without leaving word of her whereabouts. When Joel Sr. hurts Carter during one of his episodes, Joel Jr. packs Tank into their father's truck and sets out to find their mother. That he abandons Carter in the process does not quite penetrate the set of maternal fantasies steadily running in Joel Jr.'s head to the accompaniment of a plethora of Stax/Volt hits. The two find Angie and meet a variety of colorful characters, but the point here is Parker's flawless free and direct vernacular, which exquisitely renders the pain and resulting self-delusion that fuel Joel's quest, his fantasies, his sense of responsibility and his conflicting wish to be taken care of. Gothic undertones adequately prepare one for the book's final, violent pages. (Sept. 16)