DEXTERITY by Douglas Bauer
Kirkus Star


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Seldom do first novels combine emotional intensity with stylistic complexity, but Bauer does so here in an exceptionally well-written novel that boils with rage and simmers with despair. This bleak tale of domestic strife, set in a depressed upstate New York town, attends to its hapless characters with a sympathetic imagination, a literary sensibility that transforms inarticulate fury into lucid poetry. Myles, New York, "deeply isolated in the hills by its moat of spilling poverty," is the type of small town that thrives on gossip; and the lives of Ed and Romona King provide much grist for the mill. Romona, who married while in her teens, and became a mother at 20, spent most of her life in "dreamy withdrawal from the town's banalities." But marriage to her high-school sweetheart, now a bitter and sarcastic laborer, proves stifling, and she soon considers herself a failure as wife and mother. Abandoning her one-year-old in a local field, Romona begins walking south, "as though she wished to work toward an emptiness, to return to the blameless grace that dream awarded." Without money, she relies on strangers, who are often moved by her artificial hand, the result of a car accident the last time she tried to leave town. Never wandering more than 50 or so miles from home, waifish and dreamy Romona finds each place much like the last--a never-ending network of greasy diners and sleazy bars. Meanwhile, Ed suspects that everyone in Myles considers him "pitiable and pathetic," and he expresses his anger and frustration in increasingly troublesome ways. Before his wife left him, Ed drove around town with "the mannered crawls of motor-screaming serenity," but now he roars through the streets with ear-piercing furor. He begins living behind his house in a lean-to made from old car doors. And none of his friends can pierce his "impenetrable silence," which soon explodes into paranoid violence. While Romona's day of departure becomes the stuff of local lore, she continues to live prosaically not far away. About the same time she decides to return to her son, Jonas, Ed finally decides to go looking for her--an odyssey that ends with him drunk and asleep in a snow drift. Quite simply, a masterpiece of working-class fiction.

Pub Date: April 10th, 1989
ISBN: 671-64997-3
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
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