THE BROTHERS by Frederick Barthelme


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 Del, who used to do p.r. work in Houston, is given a condo in Biloxi, Mississippi, by his grateful ex-father-in-law after Del divorces the man's daughter. Biloxi happens to be home-base for Del's college-teacher brother Bud, too--plus Bud's attractive and level wife Margaret. When Del arrives in Biloxi, though, it's to find Bud gone to California in a spasm of the midlife crisis he's continually having. Del and Margaret keep each other company a little too well--just skirting treachery--and Del's hangover from this continues when Bud returns and proceeds to hold the indiscretion over him. Meanwhile, Del has found the much-younger and quite weird Jen (she publishes a free sheet of gruesome oddities taken off the CompuServe newslines)--and with her help tries to negotiate life with a quite desperate brother, an ambivalent sister-in-law, and Del's own bred-in-the-bone velleity. Small-time academics and a visit by a priest who'd like to chuck his collar don't help to firm up anyone's life-vision--funny, scathing portraiture. Barthelme (Natural Selection, 1990, etc.) writes with exceptional beauty about what Biloxi looks, smells, tastes, and sounds like--its tawdry but lovely gulfside edge--and there is to the characters' confusions and shamblings a new fine melancholy never before quite as codified in Barthelme's fictional world: depressive Bud at one point tells Del, apropos USA Today, that ``People who are supposed to be removed from what's going on, well, they're all part of it now. Everything that could possibly go wrong has already gone wrong, and now it's going wrong even more.'' This finished-fug suggests a redemption of the failed and gives the book hope and some shape. Not much, but enough to make the utterly fantastical image that ends the book--Del as a half-joke wrapping Bud in gauze and foil and leading him out to the condo's balcony for a while--take on indelibility. One of Barthelme's more haunting novels.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-670-83242-1
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1993


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