FAMILY LAUNDRY by Doric Friend


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A portent-crammed first novel, showy with atavistic speculation, bizarre incident and a delightful historic insert concerning a con artist's tilt with Andrew Carnegie. It all takes place in 1942-61 Pittsburgh, where the youngest member of a once-powerful industrialist's family searches for a guiding ""male principle"" amid the detritus from old and on-going secrets. For Randy McCalla, last acorn of potential from the McCalla family tree, responsibility to carry the family banner weighs heavily. In the family compound--a kind of petrified forest of neo-Calvinist ethos--live nine McCallas (four generations) served by a staff of 20--from Black Rachel (as opposed to the McCalla matriarch, Big Rachel), who washes the family laundry, to Babs Quick, Randy's contemporary, and child of the rakish butler (or does she have a more exalted parentage?). It is Babs who, through the years, will traverse Upstairs and Downstairs in both fact and fancy, perfecting her circus skills, mulling a saint's martyrdom, and seducing Randy by bearing them both up the stairs in Big Rachel's electric invalid chair. Between deaths (both serene and violent--and crazy), socio-religious bull sessions, revelations about sex, sinning and saints, Randy will have plucked from the past the gargantuan gaffe of a great-grandfather, royally gulled by a marvelously shifty giantess, Cassie Canfield (a real personage), whose court trail, involving the presence of Andrew Carnegie, was a sensation in 1904. The author is prodigal with visual omens signifying plenty (a July Fourth rocket ""guffawed into. . .spinning particles"" before a landmark death) and (overworked) circus symbolism. In general, however, this novel by the former president of Swarth-more College is consistently lively, if crowded, and the reconstruction of that Canfield trail from newspaper screamers is a playful fillip of fact, fancy and good fun.

Pub Date: Nov. 14th, 1986
Publisher: Beaufort