SIMPLE GIFTS by Joanne Greenberg


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A quasi-comic novel in which Greenberg ticks off the current American Disney-style infatuation with a glamorized national past--here in the form of an addled government preservation project that rattles the private lives of a good-hearted, poverty-line family on their rotting Colorado ranch. As in her recent novels and story collections, Greenberg is apt to float inventive situations on a hortatory undertone, but beyond the dollops of pop psych and mooning about ""simple gifts,"" this is an easy entertainment. Among the Fleuris (who, along with a few outsiders, narrate): father Akin, who, between narcoleptic drop-where-he-stands ""sleeps,"" keeps the ranch going by making moonshine (a.k.a. ""the product""), illegally ranching longhorn cattle and jacking deer; mother Mary Beth, huge, dippy and truly decent and loving; 19-year-old Robert Luther, loyal and bright but land-trapped; arty Louise and sensible Kate, 12 and 15, and small Jane. Enter Mr. Kelvin from the government's cultural wing, who explains to the dumbfounded Fleuris the purpose of SCELP (Social, Cultural and Ethnic Life Placements). The Fleuris' ranch, sagging with authenticity (and century-old cobwebbed tools), will be a kind of historical theme park, offering paying visitors a chance to become part of an 1880's family. For the Fleuris, it means living ""authentic""--clothes, tools, everything. Money flows from D.C.; the town now gives Mary Beth smiles instead of snubs. But crises multiply in attempts to hide Dad's sleeps, the illegal longhorns, and the ""product."" Animal slaughter sends some visitors away; another into riotious sex; and yet another to seduce Robert Luther. The Fleuris work hard, but Mr. Kelvin is furious. Religion is out; requisitions have been too heavy; and who cares if settlers killed their meat--now it's illegal! ""Why don't you realize,"" cries Mr. Kelvin, ""that authentic means real?"" The project ends with a longhorn stampede and a shower of law suits. Within the over-comfy tale of a family maturing through the oddest calamities, some entertaining pokes at the more fat-headed aspects of nostalgia for an idyllic American past.

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1986
Publisher: Henry Holt