THE ANATOMY LESSON by John David Morley


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 Morley (The Feast of Fools, Jan. 1995, etc.) takes us on an evening's ramble through the dim Amsterdam backstreetsa ramble leading slowly up to the revelation of a troubled family's unhappy historyin this quietly powerful work. As the hero (of sorts), Kiddo cuts a strangely familiar figure: A college dropout who lives on welfare and squats in a derelict building in an old part of Amsterdam, he seems, in his spoiled-brat rebelliousness, to embody all the pretensions of a certain class of overindulged, intellectual children. ``As an inhabitant of a perfectly level country, without even the faintest rise of an expectation on my horizon...I've been cultivating the art of Now, making notes towards a new definition of hope, that is, of hopelessness.'' And how: Bitterly angry at his parents for their decision to divorce and send him (at 13) to Boston to live with his mother, Kiddo hied back to Amsterdam at the first opportunity and threw himself into the faux-nihilist scene that European counterculture can offer young American expats. Partly, it seems, he was reacting against the example of his older brother, Morton, the straight-arrow genius who stayed with Dad and sailed through his university studies only to die of cancer in his early 20s. Most of story here is a recollectionnot so much an elegy as a reconstructionand Rembrandt's painting, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp, becomes the central image in Kiddo's attempt to settle in his own mind just what manner of man his brother waseven to the point of witnessing his autopsy. But the insight that's achieved is cumulativea slow piecing together of fragmented information and memory. And Morley wisely resists forcing Kiddo into any kind of pat transformation once he learns some of the darker aspects of his brother's life. The ambiguity at this close strikes just the right note. Haunting and evocative: a work of intense feeling and masterful restraint.

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1995
ISBN: 0-312-13426-6
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1995