Email this review


 Give newcomer Baker points for audacity: He sets out to write a novel that's a highly original coming-of-age tale, a story of warring families, a mediation on the complex nature of familial affection, and a tale of matricide--among other things. And, in at least some of his intentions, he succeeds. Abraham Issac Lee, the son of a turbulent, wealthy, deeply eccentric southerner, is looking back at his childhood in the relatively benign precincts of 1950s and '60s Florida. His father settles there after the Korean War, and decides to build a drive-in theater featuring the world's largest outdoor screen. He does so, with the help of a believably odd crew of helpers. The drive-in, vast, gaudy, is an immediate success. The downside is that Lee has chosen to build it in proximity to a large, elegant funeral home, and the two patriarchs begin a long, increasingly nasty battle to see who'll dominate the neighborhood. Matters become even more complicated when a teenage Abe falls in love with Grace, the funeral director's only daughter, even as he's being pursued by a rather enigmatic woman who's quietly assumed the management of the drive-in. This would likely be sufficient plot for many writers, but Baker wants more, and he deftly interweaves storylines involving the question of identity and family (Abe and his sister, both adopted, are Korean), the way in which public dramas (here, everything from the Cold War to the death of JFK) impact on private lives, and on love's crippling power. The novel's strengths are its set-pieces: Abe's gentle courtship of Grace, a rowdy, comic Fourth of July celebration, and, on a far grimmer note, the fiery end of the drive-in and Abe's innocence. The problem is that there's simply too much here--too many contending storylines and moods crowding each other out. This is, at times, a truly affecting work, and an inventive one, but too clamorous in its parts to be a complete success.

Pub Date: Sept. 2nd, 1997
ISBN: 0-375-40050-8
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1997