A GOOD BABY by Leon Rooke

A GOOD BABY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Prolific Rooke (Shakespeare's Dog, Fat Woman, etc.) here serves up a hillbilly tale of good and evil, focused on the conflict (having to do with a woman and a baby) between a sweet-natured exile and a vicious transient murderer. The tale wears thin and is too long by far, but Rooke is very good at rhythmically creating a lived-in backwoods universe not quite like any other. Toker, who lives ""in a burnt-out spot high on the Goose Neck range,"" is a kind of stumblebum who comes upon a murdered woman and ends up with her baby. ""All I am is the innocent finder,"" he thinks. The reader knows that the woman was killed by Truman--an evil, vile psychopath given to graphic backseat sex and murderous biblical guilt. In the middle of this geometry is Roby, a woman given to wearing only a bathrobe, who begins to develop a thing for Toker: ""You don't have the sense God gave a bedpan,"" she says initially. ""You sound half-decent, but they all do, till they get their head in."" After a while, though, she sings a different tune: ""I feel I'm lost in some swirlpool."" While Toker stumbles around the region from the Goose Neck range to The Fishcamp to Cal's Place with its ""catgut music,"" wondering about the law and thinking cosmic thoughts for the baby's sake (""That's old slack-jawed Jupiter up there saying we are less than spit in the stream""), Truman, sleeping mostly in his car, is full of mad incantations and visions (""He'd. . .propagated his seed as the Book commanded and that ugliness was behind him now""). All the twain shall meet, of course, and the ending is biblically surreal: Toker and Roby bury the woman's body, Toker guilty because the killer has gone free, while Truman, unkillable, witnesses the burial before getting swirled off apocalyptically in the rapids, his mind still awhirl. A oddball book that plows its ground with vivid quirkiness.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Knopf