This odd new book by the author of Columbine--a sort of sex-role fable with (a Kennedy trademark) mythological...

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THE FLOWER OF THE REPUBLIC

This odd new book by the author of Columbine--a sort of sex-role fable with (a Kennedy trademark) mythological references--does have a grandly funny opening chapter. Gray, rumpled, garrulous Prof. Homer Prudhomme, apparently wandering his native New England in search of longtime (long-unfaithful) wife Priscilla, winds up in a bar. . . and is promptly picked up, more or less, by local exterminator Pansy Truax, a giantess who matches Homer's arch locutions with roughly eloquent pronouncements on bumhood: ""There's your four types of bums. . . the boozehound bum, the mama's boy, the bookworm, and the pillhead."" Very soon, however, Kennedy shifts the tone from boisterous, just-slightly-unreal comedy to a darker, more explicitly thematic brand of whimsy, with more than a soupcon of Joyce Carol Oates. The Homer/Pansy affair quickly becomes a caricature of traditional marriage--with the sex-roles graphically reversed. Homer then flees to become the third party to a similarly imbalanced relationship: the marriage of charismatic octogenarian Mrs. French and her young, pretty, effeminate, pouting husband. Later he'll take a car-ride with yet another sexually-reversed pair: black live-sex-show performers Salamandra and Queen Albert. And, throughout, Homer reminisces about his own family's sexual waywardnesses: wonderfully sensual wife Priscilla, raped by her father, later his willing mistress, and ever unfaithful to Homer (""She hadn't even unlocked her trousseau yet, and here she was, balancing the porcine belly on her forehead, servicing an empire!""); and his Aunt Daphne, who sinned with her brother-in-law, was de-faced by a swarm of bees, and came back years later as ""a fertility goddess."" As for Homer himself, he'll finally divulge the secret of his 38-year-marriage (""I accepted her,"" incest and all)--and is last seen in communion with a young girl named Sybil. But, despite the network of myth-names, lots of structural patterning, and the centrality of the Homer/Priscilla relationship, this short novel remains opaque and unshapely. What does emerge, heavyhandedly, is a litany of 20th-century sexuality gone askew and/or androgynous (""I lived to see the destruction of the garden,"" says Homer)--and only readers engaged by that theme will want to puzzle out Kennedy's references and, along the way, savor his often-elegant, always-energetic prose.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 1982

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1982

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