BIRTHRIGHT by Andrew Coburn

BIRTHRIGHT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Once again, Coburn (Voices in the Dark, 1994, etc.) uses crime as the point of departure for an examination of his troubled characters. This time, though, the crime is the crime of the century, and the canvas is uncommonly broad and rich. It all begins as a typical story of two kids from the Bronx, Rudy Farber and Joseph Shellenbach, competing for the favors of one Gretchen Krause (who says openly that she loves them both) and waiting for the big break that'll lift them out of their dead-end lives. Rolling-stone carpenter Rudy's idea of a big break is the ransom he's sure his latest client, Charles Lindbergh, will pay for the return of his son. But shortly after Rudy hatches his kidnapping plan--which will involve both Shell and Rudy's dim, honorable coworker Bruno Richard Hauptmann as accomplices--Shell's own baby, David, dies, a casualty of his disturbed wife Helen. Aching to make Helen whole again, Shell carries out his part of the plan but adds a wrinkle by switching the children, leaving David to be found by the authorities who'll hunt down Hauptmann, and raising Charles Lindbergh Jr. as his own. The changeling can't halt Helen's slide toward twilit apathy, but he becomes the mainstay of his proud, agonized father's life. Coburn echoes Doctorow's Ragtime not only in his compounding of fiction, myth, and history, but in the syncopated, insistently metaphorical rhythms of his prose, which winnows years and decades down to mordant images as young David and his friends, echoing the fortunes of their forebears, find their bodies swelling and thrusting under their clothes, phone girlfriends or prostitutes once a week, then mark their advancing years by looking everywhere for handrails. Since nothing ever changes in Coburn's sad, dizzying view of history, it's only a matter of time--under Ronald Reagan, centrist Republican David is running for Massachusetts governor--when Shell confronts his son with the truth about his parentage. A revelation almost unbearably tender and haunting.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster