by Joseph Torra ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1996
More of a prose poem than a conventional novel, Torra's debut is set in the '60s at the gas station operated by the adolescent narrator's father in a working-class Massachusetts town, offering a compendium of thick description and male anecdote. At the center of this study in ordinary life is the narrator's father, a hard-working Italian immigrant with chronic agita, and a weakness for the dogtrack and women (other than his stove-bound wife). Weaving back and forth in time, Torra's pronounless prose records the casual speech of the station workers and hangers-on, an endless stream of boasts about sex, along with jokes about masturbation and homosexuality. From his grime-covered perspective, the narrator comments on local events: A boy drowns nearby; the town endures a devastating fire; his father moves out. But the real poetry is closer by: the naming of parts of an engine; the craft of doing detail work on choice automobiles. In the local culture of baksheesh, the narrator's father sweetens the cops for local towing rights, greases the corrupt station inspectors, and satisfies the voracious appetites of the gas franchise rep. The drama shakes only their small world: His father invests in oil filters that turn out to be faulty; a rust-chip lodges in the narrator's eye; a stolen-car scandal comes too close to home. Social commentary begins to stir when the narrator notices the cover-up of a drunken priest's Christmas Day accident, begins to drift into the psychedelic subculture of the times, and turns down his obvious patrimony. The father sells the station and their loyal station dog dies, as does a less complicated era, but not before the men buy the boy his first backseat tumble with the fat local prostitute. Torts strings together lots of short, declarative sentences into long flowing word-hoards. Annoying at first, it becomes as intoxicating (and dizzying) as the smell of gasoline.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996
Page Count: 144
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996
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