THE BOOK OF MAMIE by Duff Brenna


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Winner of the 1988 AWP Novel Award: an intelligent, lively picaresque coming-of-age tale about a backwoods adolescent who travels with a sort of idiot savant who has the strength and vitality of a folk-tale hero. The narrator, a 15-year-old farm-boy, meets Mamie Beaver, who ""had to come from the moon."" She can't even learn her ABCs, but she exerts an uncanny attraction upon him (""She was just GIRL, the myth-legend kind, like the Amazons or Wonder Woman""), and he decides to help her escape from her brutal father, John Beaver, after his Pa, a benevolent figure with a philosophical turn of mind, tells him that ""You are Mamie's keeper because you're your own keeper."" So he stabs (but doesn't kill) John Beaver and off he goes with Mamie. They live in the woods for a while: ""Once we got a routine going, we were able to make up all kinds of recipes, not just fried fish and huckleberries."" Then they run across a cast of wild characters, and the plot, such as it is, takes shape: along the way, there are some lively set pieces, including a great book-burning scene in which ""Christers"" bum everything, even Shakespeare (""I've heard it's really depressing stuff""). With Shepard, a self-described ""bona-fide genius,"" the boy and Mamie open a movie theater, the Artlife, which soon becomes a church of sorts. Mamie, who discovers a gift of mimicry, ""speaks in the tongues of the greatest artists of all time"" at the church before a riot and the arrival of John Beaver, who has finally tracked her down. With him, Armageddon arrives and Mamie is killed. Notable for its incident and invention. The motif of the religious quest, present throughout, is handled with a light satirical touch, and the book survives some bagginess and dull spots to succeed as a sort of modern folk tale.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1989
Publisher: Univ. Of Iowa Press