MIDDLE MURPHY by Mark Costello


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 Six stories, a return of Michael Murphy from Costello's The Murphy Stories, that are uneven but filled with a marvelous sense of detail and affectionate satire: they manage ironically to deflate their midwestern subjects without turning mean-spirited. ``Young Republican'' is a series of carefully modulated vignettes about the narrator's father, a Republican County Chairman, ``forty-eight years old when I was born,'' who gets punched in the nose by a hired hand for political reasons. It's also about growing up in a tough neighborhood; the narrator, college-bound, learns early to take it (``I am twelve years old and starting to get hit a lot in the stomach. Not just tapped, but slugged''). ``The Soybean Capital of the World''--a rambling slice- of-life about Murphy falling in ``with a drunken couple from his hometown''--ends up with Murphy in the back of a camper and then with his parents: ``Why do you come home just to hurt us?'' his father asks. In ``The Roaring Margaret,'' Murphy takes another road trip, this time with his pregnant wife Beth as he reminisces about his father (some repetition from the earlier story here) and about his first wife, Margaret. In ``Forty-Hour Devotion,'' Michael's son Michael (``I mutter so many m's they call after a while for a final martini'') shuttles between ex-wife Margaret and Michael (the father). Various accusations, mostly concerning the son, travel from family to family until the whole thing becomes a shaggy-dog story. ``Room 601,'' another slice-of-life, is about Murphy's dying mother, and ``Finding My Niche'' is a loosely organized finale. Entertaining pieces, if a bit shapeless in the aggregate. Costello's Murphy, convinced that ``he would...have the answer'' if only he knew the right details, is a suitable vehicle for examining the quirky instances of estrangement and reconciliation.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-252-01795-1
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Univ. of Illinois
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1991


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