Books by David James Duncan

RIVER TEETH by David James Duncan
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 1, 1995

Well-crafted vignettes and slightly overblown stories combine in a first collection from the much-praised author of The River Why (1982) and The Brothers K (1992). Duncan comes out swinging in the early pages, writing eloquently of his notion of certain compressed, boiled-down memories he calls ``river teeth,'' like the gnarled tree-knots in the Northwest waters of his home state. In ``Rose Vegetables'' he delivers on his premise, describing a Oregon parade with deadpan precision: ``White-gloved, admiration-stoned princesses reached toward us through the air, slowly unscrewing invisible jar lids.'' When sudden tragedy strikes, the mood is captured with the same restraint: ``...the right front wheel of the Meadowland Dairy wagon rolled, with majestic slowness, not so much over as through the old man's head.'' Other ``teeth'' that bite include ``Giving Normal the Finger,'' an account of a foster-brother whose only limb is a single digit; ``A Streetlamp in the Netherlands,'' in which a glance at a beautiful young woman encompasses a sickening traffic accident; and ``Another Brutal Indian Attack,'' about Duncan's job berry-picking with the local Native Americans. But such restraint and proportion are missing from most of the fiction here: ``The Garbage Man's Daughter'' is sentimental and overstuffed with fancy writing Ö la Tom Robbins; ``The King of Epoxy,'' a belabored satire of archaeology, feels like the results of a late-night caffeinated ramble on a word-processor; and ``Molting'' is an attempt at epiphany (divorcing father + young daughter + beautiful moment in nature = wisdom). Of these latter pieces, only in ``Not Rocking the Boats'' does the extravagant writing pay off in laughter, and only in ``The Mickey Mantle Koan'' does the emotion completely transcend sentimentality. Our disappointment is sharpened by Duncan promising more than he delivers, but there's just enough here to keep a sympathetic reader plowing on. A clever packaging of early material, with some ``teeth'' in it, that holds out hope for future work. Read full book review >
THE BROTHERS K by David James Duncan
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 15, 1992

Another quintessentially American saga from Oregon writer Duncan, moving from the metaphysics of fishing in his first novel (The River Why, 1983) to an exploration here of bush-league baseball and the perils of Seventh-Day Adventism during the Vietnam era. The remarkable Chance family consists of six precocious children orbiting at various altitudes and velocities around their equally distinctive parents. Papa Hugh is a sublimely talented pitcher whose career is cut short by an accident in which his thumb is crushed, while Mama Laura zealously wields Adventist tenets to guard herself and her brood against devils and doubts. Four brothers and twin sisters grow up in this pressure-cooker of frustration and blind faith, which becomes more intense as the boys go their separate ways and encounter maternal resistance. Hugh has an operation in which part of his big toe is grafted onto his thumb, prompting the return of his self-respect and a stirring comeback in the minors, but the family situation continues to decay when Vietnam turns one son into a draft-dodger on the lam in Canada and claims another—the gentlest and most religious of the lot—as a foot soldier, until conflict between the boy's faith and daily reality brings him to assault an officer who ordered the execution of a child prisoner. After he's been shut away in an Army hospital and battered by electroshock treatment, his family reunites to free him, bringing him home just as Hugh begins a rapid, losing battle with cancer. Unfortunately losing focus as it tracks family members around the world to Vietnam and British Columbia as well as rural India, this epic story is still marvelously detailed and poignant, and a garden of delights for baseball lovers. Read full book review >