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THE BOOK OF FRED by Abby Bardi


by Abby Bardi

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 2001
ISBN: 0-7434-1193-5
Publisher: Washington Square/Pocket

A twist on the stranger-comes-to-town genre that’s long on plot and short on art, with some extra points-of-view thrown in to ensure novel-length.

Fred Brown was a prophet—and the “Fredian” cultists now all wear plain brown clothes in his honor. This is all we know about the religion of Mary Fred, a girl-cultist who has a supermodel’s bone structure behind all the, well, nothing. M.F. finds herself assigned to a foster home after two of her brothers die from curable diseases and her parents are jailed for neglect. Enter the Cullisons, a late-’90s nontraditional family comprised of spinster mother, valley girl daughter, and druggie uncle. The antics begin. True happiness, it seems, lies somewhere between a cult’s conservatism and the rampant televisionized disaster of suburbia. M.F. is soon watching the worst of daytime TV and even being sarcastic, but just as surely as she begins to change, so do the Cullisons. Before long, they eat dinner as a family unit, sister Heather becomes a productive member of society, and even Uncle Roy does his drugs “more judiciously.” But the fun can’t last forever: the “Big Cat,” a catastrophe predicted by the Fredian Bible, is just around the corner—and if that isn’t enough to rock the boat, a little violence stolen from the real world’s headlines will do the trick. The problem here is in the execution: every time a bit of momentum is established, Bardi shifts to a new first-person narrator, each less relevant than the last. We start with M.F.—so dubbed by hip Heather—and move on through the family. By the time we return to the main character—after a number of tedious, abject subplots—it’s too little, too late.

Artlessly written albeit painless to read. Newcomer Bardi seems to want to say something about a world informed by television, but the story itself is so dependent on television that the strategy founders.