BLACKEYES by Dennis Potter

BLACKEYES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Those who saw the PBS telecast of Potter's The Singing Detective will recognize the similar techniques used in this short novel: a story within a story, with a writer as the central character; quick cuts and fades--sometimes confusing--between past and present, ""fact"" and fiction, reality and fantasy; and a nightmarish invocation, throughout, of blurred memories from a childhood blighted by psychosexual trauma. Unfortunately, however, while The Singing Detective was by turns intriguing, disturbing, and enormously affecting, this far thinner concoction remains merely gimmicky, and completely uninvolving. Maurice James Kingsley, 77, after 20-some years as a washed-up has-been, suddenly produces a British best-seller: Sugar Bush, a hip, knowledgeable novel about the rise and fall (death by drowning) of an enigmatic young London fashion-model--gorgeous, zombie-like, promiscuous, exploited--named Blackeyes. Kingsley's beautiful niece Jessica, however, is ""beside herself with rage"" because Sugar Bush is based on her own experiences, as told and written in letters to Uncle Maurice; she intended to torture him (for reasons that soon become obvious) with her confessions; instead he has won prestige and fortune. She now has ""to start all over again, dismantling his narrative, reclaiming herself."" Potter's mosaic, then, consists largely of excerpts from Sugar Bush, along with comments by Jessica and her recollection of the way things really were. There is also a fairly straightforward, if fragmented, present-tense narrative: smelly old Uncle Maurice's farcical encounter with a pretentious New Journalist. Plus: Jessica's flashbacks to the childhood trauma that compels her to wreak vengeance on Uncle M.; and scenes involving the discovery of a woman's drowned body--which might be from Sugar Bush. . .or might be flash-forwards to another, less literary demise. A few of the vignettes here--especially those focused on foul, pathetic, near-senile Uncle Maurice (who dotes on an old teddy bear)--flare with the raunchy, sardonic brio of The Singing Detective (and its predecessor, Pennies from Heaven). And there's a modicum of interest for anyone who's still--ten or fifteen years after the fad--enamored of postmodernist narrative-deciphering. For the most part, however, Potter's devices--so fresh and effective when applied to television-drama--seem dated and precious on the page.

Pub Date: Oct. 19th, 1988
Publisher: Vintage/Random House