THE BOOK OF MAN by Barry Graham


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 The death of an old friend provokes a trip to the past in a somber little novel about sex, drugs, and poetry in Glasgow in the '80s. The Scottish Graham's bland, pseudo-documentary style disguises the rudimentary mechanics of this low-life melodrama. Kevin Previn is a 35-year-old performance artist, poet, and playwright who abandoned his native Glasgow ten years earlier when the scene there became too depressing: The mother of his son joined his best friend in the bliss of heroin addiction; fatherhood and joblessness sent Kevin himself spiraling into madness, for which he was institutionalized; and life in general got ``weirder and fuzzier.'' Now, after a decent life in London, Kevin's best friend, Michael Illingworth, has died from AIDS. The author of two books, Thus Spake Andy Schuster and The Book of Man, Mike was a bisexual hedonist with a penchant for adolescent existential ranting. The quotations from his second book, which provide the epigraphs to each chapter here, prove him a thinker of high-school profundity (``...whatever you believe in, you should know it's cruel; and if you believe in nothing, there's only cruelty'') rather than the ``genius'' Kevin considers him. On assignment for a TV documentary about Mike, Kevin returns to Glasgow, but his project turns out to be more about himself. He recalls all the horrors of his deprived youth, his screw-ups at school, his botched relationship with his son's mother, his electroshock treatments, and the numerous other indignities for which he holds society in contempt. Kevin's the sort of PC fool who wishes he were gay just to annoy his homophobic dad; and he remains tedious in what seem his effortful hopes to shock readers with comments like ``I was so much in love I'd have used her shit for toothpaste.'' Graham's amateurish writing poses as authenticity, but it's mainly false grit.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 1-85242-390-0
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1995