DUTCH SHEA, JR. by John Gregory Dunne


Email this review


Dutch Shea, Jr.--as he is referred to throughout this uneven, often pretentious novel (never Dutch, never Shea)--is a smallish-time urban criminal lawyer, though a far less convincing one than the hero of George V. Higgins' Kennedy for the Defense. In his mid-40s, divorced, haunted by his lawyer-father's jail-time for embezzlement, Dutch Shea, Jr. is Mr. Contemporary Angst--especially since his adopted daughter Cat has recently been killed by an IRA terrorist restaurant-bomb. So, while working with several pathetic clients--a woozy black woman who accidentally killed her grandchild with a lawn-mower, a kid-arsonist, a massage-parlor entrepreneur-Dutch Shes, Jr. broods. . . and broods. . . and broods. About his father. About his own embezzlements. About Cat. About his ex-wife's adultery. About the past. (""Would it ever end? This banquet of memory."") About his use of the law practice as ""A refuge. A moat against my life. Like a condom. The law is your prophylactic."" There are Dutch Shea, Jr.'s ""Further thoughts during cunnilingus."" And, later, ""Thoughts while traveling west, economy class."" But all this repetitious, mordant, frequently maudlin stream-of-consciousness material never adds up to a distinctive character here. Nor do Dunne's periodic injections of contrived, absurdist plotting give shape to his lazy narrative--which at one point simply collapses into numbered vignettes (1-18) for over 100 pages. (Among the belabored ironies: Dutch Shes, Jr.'s foster-siblings are a celebrity-gourmet priest and an ex-Sister who's opening ""sex information clinics for emerging nuns""; his father's corpse is catapulted into view when a cemetery hill collapses; the arsonist's alibi involves a judge's homosexuality; the late Cat was pregnant; and there's a secret about Cat's true parentage.) Admittedly, Dutch Shea, Jr.'s encounters with the dregs-of-the-earth are sometimes cruelly funny, with truly-heard dialogue, as are a few of the socio-cultural observations--though these (e.g., a swipe at book-critics) usually sound more like John Gregory Dunne than Dutch Shes, Jr. But the mixture of naturalism and black comedy doesn't come off; the bitter, telegraphic narration often becomes a mechanical, mannered drone; and, above all, neither Dutch Shea, Jr. nor his soul-journey ever seems more than an artificial substitute for the sort of genuine fictional framework that Dunne created in True Confessions. Some spirited trimmings, then, but a novel that's empty, clichÉd, and self-conscious at its supposed center.

Pub Date: April 5th, 1982
Publisher: Linden/Simon & Schuster