BABY CAT-FACE by Barry Gifford


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A New Orleans lowlife novel by bohemian wannabe Gifford (Arise and Walk, 1994, etc.) that offers up a violent caricature of tabloid life and fundamentalist religions--all while striking a trendy pose of French decadence. The endlessly mutating story opens in Tennessee Williams-land, with Baby Cat-Face in a fleabag hotel with her lover, Jimbo, exchanging horror stories of cannibal women; backtracks to fill in Baby's standard-issue Southern Gothic childhood (a naked dwarf dances to delirium, exposing a ring of child molesters); and then follows Baby's journeys on a bus hijacked by a machine-gun--toting feminist to Corinth, North Carolina, where an end-of-the-world gathering is taking place. The author is obviously enjoying himself, but his overworking of the found poetry of colorful New Orleans names--Sugargirl Crooks, Waldo Orchid, The Lost Tribe of Venus Pleasure & Social Club--gets tiresome. And the dialect, meanwhile, feels swollen with self-regard: ""Mother Bizco and dem. Temple da Few Wash Pure by Her Blood. Drive Baby to suicide herself,"" says Jimbo toward book's end, summing up Baby's ascension to Heaven after giving birth to a criminal version of Jesus--Angel de la Cruz, who many years later is seduced and murdered by a woman named Jewel Wasp, who may be a real wasp, and who dies giving birth to a daughter, Ruby-Baby Wasp. The final chapter is a short story written by the author for The Fran‡ois Villon Review and reprinted here, one fears, to excuse the flaccid logic of the whole enterprise. Fine for fans of Gifford's caricatures and violent absurdity, but for most a predictable cocktail about life's losers, swirled gaudily together like layers of sweet liqueurs: It goes down easy but feels kind of awful afterward.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Harcourt Brace