THE HANDYMAN by Carolyn See

THE HANDYMAN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An enchanting story by the ever-adventurous See (Making History, 1991, etc.) depicts an aspiring painter-turned-handyman who discovers —the infinite within the quotidian.— The framing device—a Guggenheim application dated August 15, 2027, and rendered in flawless grant-speak—informs us up-front that Robert Hampton will become —the preeminent international artist of the New Century— and that a group known as —Los Testigos— (witnesses) received both artworks and spiritual sustenance from him during his formative period. But when 28-year-old Bob’s dejected first-person narrative begins in May 1996, he’s just another drifting Los Angeleno, convinced he will never be a painter, sharing a dingy house with three other disconnected souls, marking time until the fall. Meanwhile, his flyers boasting —WHATEVER—S WRONG I CAN FIX IT!— bring calls from various people, some of whom don—t need a handyman so much as a rescue squad. Among the more desperate cases: a recently transplanted gay midwesterner unable to cope with his AIDS-stricken teenage lover, and two women so overwhelmed by bad marriages that they can care neither for their children nor their houses, which stink from ankle-deep dirty dishes and clothes. The neglected wife of a sports agent, her sexy stepdaughter, and a 60ish widow are more capable, if almost as needy. Over the course of a single summer, Bob does laundry, scours bathrooms, sorts papers, beds down with several customers, connects his roommates with others, and finds his identity as an artist in the casual pieces he creates to cheer up his unhappy clientele. The story may sound schematic in summary, especially since most of the characters can be matched with a —Testigo— from the grant application, but See’s customary wit and sharp eye for the particulars of American life at the turn of the century flesh out the whole with human complexity. Undertones of spiritual as well as creative awakening are perfectly calibrated to enrich the text without weighing it down. An ambitious exploration of artistic inspiration that could have been unbearably pretentious but that instead, thanks to Bob’s down- to-earth voice and the author’s delicate touch, proves magical.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-50155-X
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1998




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