Rites-of-passage fiction with a difference, from poet and literary journalist Abrahams, who, like his protagonist, was born with cerebral palsy and is a Jewish South African. Consisting of 17 stories that often overlap, the novel is a low-key and rather flat record of Felix Greenspan's struggle to live a full physical and intellectual life. It begins with a hospital stay for four-year-old Felix, the only son of a middle- class family with few cultural interests, and ends as the now 38- year-old Felix is on the brink of a liberating sexual experience. Focusing more on the personal than on the political struggle, apartheid and South African politics are—not unexpectedly—muted presences, mere bit-players in some stories. Felix's childhood is spent in a home for the disabled, where he's bullied by the older boys, falls in love, and after varying treatments is finally able to walk rather than move round on his knees. A first tram-ride to town on his own means that ``giddily triumphant, he was making contact with real life on his own, a stranger among strangers.'' After a few bureaucratic setbacks and an encouraging encounter with an older writer, Felix makes his way to college, which, though filled with beautiful girls, is intellectually disappointing. He drops out, and continues to write while working for his father, but the focus of the remaining pieces is his struggle for sexual autonomy. He makes love to a former classmate, who soon leaves; and prostitutes—he visits Paris in his 20's—are inadequate substitutes. But when his relationship with a suicidal artist ends, he's cheered by a promising correspondence with a woman—the first who's wanted ``to have a really close communication'' with him. For all his suffering and pluck, Felix remains a shadowy and remote figure living out an idea, not a life. A disappointing debut.
Read full book review >