LIFE IN THE LAND OF THE LIVING by Daniel Vilmure

LIFE IN THE LAND OF THE LIVING

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A first novel of passion and gore (if less psychology) set in a grimly decayed Southern urban landscape: two brothers spend a night and day on a protracted neighborhood odyssey that ends with three deaths and Faulknerian symbols of redemption. What's happened is that Mama has gone off to live with Dewey Bohannon, the milkman, and Daddy (a longtime child abuser), in a fit of drunken and bloodied rage, has declared Mama to be a whore, his two sons not to be his own at all. This news sets the unnamed boys on the start of a seemingly aimless night-journey that's a mix of A Clockwork Orange's brutal futurism and Huck Finn's shenanigans--through swamps and ditch-water, fistfights and beatings (the older brother, an alcoholic who leads the way, continually beats up the little brother, who tags along and narrates half the time), through vomiting and bleeding (""That was my family all over--blood and puke, and puke and blood""), through amateur dramatics worthy of the Duke and the Dauphin (for the purpose of shoplifting from a Stop 'n Go), past an undertaking parlor, into the funeral reception for a dead canary presided over by a sleazy reverend who serves cookies, and into a drive-in movie where a gift stabs the man to death who was trying to seduce her. As night deepens, though, it seems there's been a purpose all along: the older brother sneaks away and stabs his father to death (except that he's already self-dead from a shotgun blast); and then there's Mama's and Dewey Bonhannon's house to be burned down (they're asleep inside), doused with gasoline first. After the murders, the novel's poetic pitch intensifies, as the boys flee through a Fellini-esque landscape of abandoned docks and piers, railroad tracks and ditches, with louring sky and waterspouts on the horizons--and baptismal rain and a trip into a church (""I knelt down in the water. . . but I knew I wasn't clean yet"") that may or may not reveal grace before death. In all: impassioned reruns, at a high, mean-lyric pitch, but reruns nevertheless.

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 1987
Publisher: Knopf