PERU by Gordon Lish

PERU

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KIRKUS REVIEW

As he did in Dear Mr. Capote (1983), Lish turns here to the psychologically aberrant in an effort to get timeliness and drive into his fiction. But not about a mass murderer, Peru is told by a 50-year-old man who, back in 1940, at age 6, killed little hare-lipped Steven Adinoff, with a toy hoe, while playing in the sandbox of a rich boy next door. A study of violence-alienated-from-feeling, the novel labors worthily to make a single psychological fabric out of past and present. Packing his son's footlocker for his trip to summer camp, the narrator happens to see, on television, the machine-gunning of two men on the rooftop of a prison in Peru; this image, and a slapstick incident next morning (when the father's none-too-stable head is generously bloodied by the trunk-lid of a taxi) serve to unleash memories of the 1940 sandbox murder, and so the father ""writes"" this novel, declaring at the start that ""There is nothing which I will not tell you if I can think of it."" And tell he does, in a voice cracked by bad grammar, wrought to pitches of bemused incredulousness by much repetition (""That's what Steven Adinoff, that's actually what Steven Adinoff, that is actually what I had to hear Steven Adinoff say""), and mingling past and present in a near-seamless thought-stream of free association: memories of childhood, the inferior's envy of the rich people next door (with their staff of servants), sexual initiation (exhibitionistic and not quite normal), loneliness, introversion, and, of course, the ""murder"" remembered with the same dissociated passionlessness and bizarre quality of slow motion as would be seen years later, with the sound turned off, in the rooftop killings on the TV screen. Symmetrical, sustained, crafted with the skills of the literary connoisseur, the book, in the end, remains straitened by the case-study terms of the ""problem' it sets out to explore. Violence disconnected from feeling or remorse: there it is on television; there it was in the sandbox; and here it is, dramatized earnestly in this complicated, ambitious, but oddly inert and exercise-like novel.

Pub Date: Jan. 22nd, 1985
Publisher: Dutton