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 Holden Caulfield lives again, in this beguiling seriocomic tale. Ten years ago Duffy's first novel, The World as I Found It, re-created the life and mind of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein with a radiant wit and intensity that made it one of the most highly praised debuts of the 1980s. Its successor, a comic bildungsroman set in suburbia and on the road in 1960, is not a bit less praiseworthy. The story concerns Frank Dougherty, a Maryland teenager and the only child in an energetic, self-analytical, just slightly crazy family that would fit somewhere between Salinger's Glasses and Cheever's Wapshots. When his mother unexpectedly takes ill and dies, Frank's increasingly confused relationship with his stunned father pushes him toward intimacy with neighboring families he both hopes and fears will take him in, and then complicity with two other lost and drifting kids, an orphaned black named Sheppy and Frank's antagonist and closest friend Alvy, a Boy Scout and altar boy who's given to hot-wiring cars and to spasms of inexplicable violence. The trio steal a car and head south, encountering such wonders as a pair of nubile and willing high- school girls (Tweety and Cookie), and a gentle and helpful black family who give Frank a lesson in race relations that Duffy spells out a little too baldly (``After that, colored people stopped being ghosts or negatives of white people. . . and I never saw them in remotely that same way''). But the novel hums along agreeably, powered by Frank's high-energy, ribald, plaintive voice (he's telling his story in retrospect, almost 25 years later, addressing it to his dead mother) and by several adroit variations Duffy plays on the controlling (title) metaphor, which describes the process of thinking oneself inside unfamiliar situations or other people's skins and making yourself understand them. That's sort of what a fine novel like this one does. Let's hope we don't have to wait another decade for Duffy's next one.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-80883-8
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1996