GERTRUDE OF STONY ISLAND AVENUE by James Purdy

GERTRUDE OF STONY ISLAND AVENUE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Purdy (The Candle of Your Eyes, 1987, etc. etc.) comes home with his first American publication in more than a decade, a stupendous elegy on the silences of love. In suburban Chicago in an indeterminate past—probably the ’40s—Victor and Carrie Kinsella move through the bric- a-brac of their North Shore lives without much evidence of purpose or pleasure. Prosperous enough in an old-money sort of way, they grumble at each other as old couples are wont to do and spend most of their time talking at cross-purposes or trading accusations. Their daughter Gertrude—now some years dead—was an artist whose bohemian rebelliousness kept them both well at bay during her short life and now makes her absence all the more difficult to bear, especially for Carrie. “Behind all this tame, insipid life we were leading on Stony Island Avenue, there was something after all mysterious, strange, and yes frightening.” And Carrie means to find out what it is. To begin with, she discovers that her husband—“Daddy,” as she calls him—is secretly compiling a massive and nonsensical record of his childhood and youth, entitled “Index of Forgotten Items.” So she leaves Daddy, moves in with a friend, and persuades Daddy’s lawyer Cy Mellerick—once Gertrude’s lover—to show her her daughter’s secret world. “Around me I saw a terrible Chicago I had previously barely glanced at,” which in actual fact was a Chicago of passions: of jazz and painting and liquor and sex. “A city of fearful energy and confusion, ceaseless change and sunless sky.” And in a climax that she had anticipated least of all, Carrie sees Gertrude’s art . . . and faints. Afterward, she understands her daughter, and herself, for the first time: —I was like some strange winged creature coming out of its cocoon.” A rare triumph: as elegant in its simplicity of tone as it is moving in its purity of feeling, Purdy’s work deserves to place its author in the first rank of contemporary writers.

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1998
ISBN: 0-688-15901-X
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1998




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