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ELECT MR. ROBINSON FOR A BETTER WORLD by Donald Antrim

ELECT MR. ROBINSON FOR A BETTER WORLD

By Donald Antrim

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-670-85139-6
Publisher: Viking

 Civilization's thin crust tears again. Atavistic violence bubbles up in a small oceanside Florida (maybe) town in this not- quite black comedy, Antrim's debut. What horror befell little Sarah Miller in narrator Pete Robinson's basement? Why are he and his neighbors protecting their homes by digging deadly concealed pits in their yards? And what on earth could have provoked this middle-class community to draw and quarter one of its own, ex-Mayor Jim Kunkel? A lot of questions at the start here--and beyond the questions, more questions. Thus Kunkel was dismembered by four cars operated by his neighbors- turned-vigilantes as a punishment for killing some picnickers with Stinger missiles. But what set old Jim off? Apparently (this is murky) Pete's Rotary luncheon talk on The Barbarity of the Past, with special emphasis on the rack. So does that mean Pete triggered all the violence? What is clear is that third-grade teacher Pete is the central figure, working hard to establish a school in his home (the local system is bankrupt) as a cover for his messianic ambition to be mayor. We also know that his sympathetic wife, Meredith, is afraid of him. Perhaps that's why she symbolically escapes him by becoming a coelacanth during a trance-state at a ``theriomorphism workshop''--though she can't save little Sarah from her fate in the basement, the climax of this short work. Pete, though mad as a hatter, comments on the grisly goings-on (including his ritual burial of the ex-Mayor's body parts) with a cool, ironic intelligence; this dissonance is the novel's most striking feature--and effective up to a point. But Antrim's failure to orchestrate his flashy set-pieces leaves the impression of a first draft, albeit from a promising new talent with a wonderfully keen ear. (First serial to Harper's and The Paris Review.)