Downtown meets Brooklyn, Pygmalion meets Faust, and Marilyn Monroe meets the devil—in this rollicking contemporary fairy tale by first-novelist Thomas. For 40 years in Flatbush, Jack has quietly worked at his bench at Reliable Shoe Repair by day and in his secret room, carving luxuriant Renaissance angels out of ebony and ash, by night—all the time waiting, somewhat hopelessly now, for the reappearance of his wife Angela, who mysteriously failed to come home from a shopping trip in 1952. Instead, two things happen: Jack's elderly neighbor Mrs. Rice dies, replaced by a tenant Jack thinks of as ``the mass murderer'' because he uproots and otherwise desecrates Mrs. Rice's lovely garden, over which Jack's secret room has looked for more than half a century; and a sweet 19-year-old waif named Lucille—an aspiring Marilyn Monroe imitator—wanders into Reliable to have her waitressing shoes fixed and wins Jack's grandfatherly affections. That's when the trouble starts. At a Marilyn look-alike contest to which Jack accompanies her, Lucille meets Buddy Lomax- -agency photographer, image banker, and master operator of a diabolical computerized photographic collage-making device called the Hell; Buddy promises to make Lucille more like Marilyn than Marilyn and begins by sending her to dermabrasionists and plastic surgeons. By now Lucille is living in Jack's apartment, and Buddy tricks her into letting him peek at the lavish, jewel-eyed backroom angels, which—being even more beautiful than his own creation in Lucille—he decides to steal: First he'll try compiling a phony photographic life-history of the missing Angela on the Hell machine and pretend to Jack that he can locate her—in exchange for the angels; if that doesn't work (and it doesn't), Buddy will frame Jack for the murder of the loutish next-door neighbor, who's been found dead in Mrs. Rice's garden.... Like Walker Percy in his early novels, Thomas possesses a real gift for the lyrical and fabulous: an impressive, oddball pleasure.
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