A YEAR OF RHYMES by Bernard Cooper


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 A sweet, nostalgic first novel by essayist Cooper (Maps to Anywhere, 1991) delineating the riddles that define Burt Zerkin's 11th year--as Burt discovers his sexual longing for boys and men and faces the death of an older brother from leukemia. The time is 1962, the place suburban Los Angeles, where Burt lives in a big Spanish-style house with his wisecracking father, Ira, a manic divorce attorney who's been invited to play himself on the TV show Divorce Court; his pretty mother, Sylvie, serene in the glow of her husband's burgeoning success; his maiden Aunt Ida, who wears a turban, speaks Yiddish, waits tables in a local bar, and dotes on Burt; and 21-year-old brother Bob, Burt's baggy-suited idol, who works for their father as a stylish, snappy private eye. Except that Bob is hopelessly in love with an elusive, unresponsive, weirdly artistic but beautiful girl named Marion Hirsch, this is a happy family--everyone loves to watch Queen for a Day while mixing colorful cocktails in the newly refurbished rec room. Then one afternoon Burt discovers that he possess a wayward desire to kiss his best friend, Brad King, rather than smooch with Brad's father's secret collection of Playboy pinups; and before too many weeks go by he also--to his stunned horror--finds himself having fantasies about one Chief Altoon, a local fire marshall who's given a speech at Burt's school. Meanwhile, Bob begins visibly fading--at first, it appears, from unrequited love, but soon, it's clear, from a wasting disease that can't be cured. As Bob slowly dies, the family becomes sadder and more sober but stronger; they mark the passing days by reading from the book A Year of Rhymes for Young Adults; and because Burt has learned to ``Remember through Rhymes'' from a book on memory aids, he won't forget his brother. Beautifully written and memorable--if not as riveting or powerful as one might hope.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-670-84732-1
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1993


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