HEADS BY HARRY by Lois-Ann Yamanaka

HEADS BY HARRY

KIRKUS REVIEW

The conclusion to Honolulu poet and novelist Yamanaka’s raffish trilogy (Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers, 1996; Blu’s Hanging, 1997) is another agreeably comic tale of growing up absurd amid the natural beauty and polyracial confusion of the islands. The relentlessly episodic story is narrated by Toni Yagyuyu, middle child of a Japanese-American family whose father, the eponymous Harry, runs the taxidermy shop above which his unruly family live. Besides Toni, there are her forthright “Mommy,” who’s both science teacher and earth mother; older brother Sheldon (“Shelly”), a flamboyantly gay cross-dresser; and younger sister Bunny, “a home-sewn clothes horse” and everybody’s pet. Meantime, everybody also yells a lot at everybody else in a hilariously rendered Hawaiian-American pidgin dialect, as Yamanaka knowingly takes us through Toni’s reluctant progress toward adulthood. Her only distinction in an otherwise mediocre high-school career is a prizewinning science project designed to answer the question “What do wild Euro-Polynesian pigs do to the ecosystem?—After that, things get weird. In college, Toni discovers cocaine, discos, and sex; flunks out; forms a curious further relationship with her childhood buddies the macho Santos brothers (football hero Maverick and criminally inclined Wyatt)—either of whom may be the lover who got her pregnant, both of whom become baby daughter Harper’s “fathers.” Baby is named for Billy Harper, the Yagyuyus’ live-in friend who’s too young to be Toni’s real boyfriend . . . it goes like that, until the cholerically weary Harry (a terrific comic character) accepts as his apprentices Toni and the Santoses, and passes the torch.” But with conditions. It’s a breezy ride of a story, helpfully peppered with wonderfully obscene and funny shards of broken English (“I might have to broke your ass”). High-energy fiction from a talented writer. One’s only complaint is that this essentially reworks, with very similar if not identical characters, the contents of Yamanaka’s earlier books.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-374-16850-4
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1998




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