BRIGHTEN THE CORNER WHERE YOU ARE by Fred Chappell

BRIGHTEN THE CORNER WHERE YOU ARE

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The narrator of Chappell's last novel (I Am One of You Forever, 1985)--young Jess Kirkman--also tells this exuberant tale of a day in the life of his father, an ordinary man cast into a human drama of heroic proportions. Jess is a great reader of the Aeneid, and in his Virgil-inspired narrative, Joe Robert Kirkman fully lives up to his mythic role. A 36-year-old country schoolteacher, Joe Robert spends most of his remarkable day trying to tell a lie. Instead, each improbable story comes tree, bearing humor and decency in its wake, and testifying to his essential goodness. Yet this artful celebration of life manages to steer wide of sentimentality, for Joe Robert often gives voice to doubt and despair. After all, teaching science to the children of mountain people in North Carolina circa 1946 is a risky business. But this genuinely witty teacher respects the hard-working folk who distrust book-learning. Confused by modernity himself, Joe Robert is also troubled by the possibility that knowledge is a dangerous thing, especially in light of the sophisticated madness revealed by WW II. On the day at hand, Joe Robert fears his impending interview by the school board, which, he suspects, is about to fire him for mentioning Darwin. But nothing goes as planned this day: he ruins his only suit on his way to school when he rescues a young girl from drowning; gets a bit tipsy with the conundrum, spouting janitor in the latter's subterranean hideaway; talks a cantankerous goat down from the school's roof, to the delight of the assembled; and so on. By the time of the interview, he's truly transcended the matter in question, thanks to a few more ""quaint convolutions and ridiculous coincidences."" Chappell delights in the patent absurdity of his story, but this deceptively folksy tale is no less serious than the classical literature that gives it shape and texture. That's the brilliant conceit animating his truly epic comedy.

Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 1989
Publisher: St. Martin's