THE BONNER BOYS by Campbell Geeslin
Kirkus Star

THE BONNER BOYS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

It may not amount to much in the way of a full-scale novel, but this lean book of vignettes--about five unusually named West Texas brothers, now far-flung and middie-aged--is loaded with charm (unforced, unfolksy), with plain-sharp storytelling, and with the sort of disorderly yet convincing specifics which only come with genuinely home-grounded material. After a ""brief prelude"" that shows the five Bonner boys together with their ranching parents before World War II, Geeslin then sequentially picks up on each of them 40-some years later, on the eve of their first reunion in a decade. Eldest brother Keel is the least likable of the bunch--a still-handsome narcissist at 63, a sleek and somewhat shady entrepreneur long ensconced on a Latin American island, a sometime US-intelligence source, a casually full-time womanizer, an amoral merchandiser of information. . . but a loving father and grandfather. One turns very happily, then, from this effective hot-house atmosphere to brother #2--Field, the one who stayed home: looking in on widowed Mama, making good profits from the local paper, getting fat, playing golf, slyly keeping an eye on everyone in town and subtly exercising power with a drawl or a wink (putting the damper on a local doc's real-estate/hospital scam, for instance). There's comedy, too, though a tenser sort, in the segment on youngest brother Horner--a genteelly alcoholic Houston real-estate lawyer whose recent elevation to partnership enchants Homer's ambitious wife (impressively, she's quite likable, not a witchy caricature) but sends him, terrified, on a childlike visit to the deserted family ranch. Banyan--failed concert pianist, now music prof--is next: his Austin home is the site of the reunion, and he's nervously anticipating a university concert--which turns out brilliantly (one of the book's few corny lapses) despite a chaotic day that includes the reunion arrivals and a disturbed piano student's self-mutilation (hand nailed to piano bench). And finally, as the reunion turns into a funny-awful, boozy ali-nighter (old rivals Keel and Field pummel each other and trade puerile insults while 86-year-old Mama wails), the focus falls on brother Flannel from N.Y.--a seemingly autobiographical figure looking for ""an important clue about himself"" in these ""four other aging men."" Ironically, however, Flannel is the only character here who remains fuzzy, and this coming-together of the brothers is diverting without being really satisfying (likewise, a revelation about Keel's true parentage is agreeable yet a bit slick). But in all other respects Geeslin cajoles just the right blend of tenderness and irony out of this oddly believable family--and if some American adapter could come up with the nuanced expertise that the British brought to The Glittering Prizes, this could become a marvelously unhackneyed mini-series. For now, however, it's one of those low-key delights that may not receive the low-key appreciation it deserves; don't let it get lost in the hyped-up, big-book competition.

Pub Date: April 10th, 1981
Publisher: Simon & Schuster