Email this review


In this sequel to the author's 1965 The Sioux (cf. p. 64), those inbred French grandees, whose ""fierce tribalism causes their fierce hearts to beat as one,"" entwine their attenuated sensibilities (expressed in an often-wanton English splattered with dollops of French) about the approaching death of an heir before the mini-Gotterdammerung close. Two from the same pride-pod, Armand Benoir and thrice-married sister Marguerite (""Mim""), rally subordinate Benoirs to attend the dying days of nine-year-old George, a precocious and engaging squirt who is terminally ill with leukemia, a genetic family curse. George revives and withers in Paris and at the Benoirs' country preserve. Among those in attendance: Mother Mim, for whom the dauphin is ""the absolute center of her universe"" and who lies in bed with brother Armand (""We try to get a little sleep together. Is that so bad?""); Vincent Castleton, Mim's third husband, who bores her to blankness and whose very English outrage at the Benoirs for not pushing crisis treatments for George glances off the silken certainties of the family, which has a special way of cherishing its own; Bienville, Armand's sole offspring who loves/hates Papa, and has even wed an English ninny who's decorating a big, beautiful Drekpalast (all ""vulgaire, commun, ordinaire, de mauvais gout et banal"") to infuriate Papa and his ""high-class shines."" Then there's Armand--that ""sexual excÉdÉ"" Castleton rather likes--with his pure doll-wife, his lascivious pet monkey, a mistress, and a private leukemia clinic called ""the Ritz."" The Benoirs soldier on, but Death--leaving only the chief Sioux standing--out-bizarres them all (George vomits ""raspberry ice""; he dies while a mob of family and medicos skate on a rink of mucus and blood, ""charging about like Keystone cops trying to force an arrest""). And Bienville's suicide is a Performance--sexually speaking. This novel, dealing as it does with death--both as viewed through a dilettante monocle, and as a heart-stopping invasion--has more spine than the campy The Sioux; and the surface glitter of the speech ranges from un peu tiresomely arch, to burlesque, to blackly funny (Bienville sounds like Doonesbury's Zonker). Still, in spite of the fancy-pants palaver, there are electric moments worth catching.

Pub Date: March 5th, 1986
Publisher: Knopf