In this debut novel, a man looks back on growing up with his five siblings in a family shaped by dysfunction and selfish maternal ambition.
In this first-person, coming-of-age narrative, Blydasafaulk Cain Bates has returned to his Southern hometown. The sight of the old corner house he grew up in sparks a 50-year-old memory of the day he saw his disabled eldest brother jabbed with an umbrella and called a “crippled urchin” by a passing stranger. The adult Cain continues recalling his life with his older sister, four brothers, and the cold mother who manipulated and dominated them all. Cain refers to her as “the mother,” an indication of the emotional remove he cultivated as self-protection. Dumas paints a poignant picture of a child who absorbed early on that his mother had no love to give, and who learned to scavenge crumbs of warmth and affection from his siblings. (The unassertive father is barely a presence.) The protagonist’s eldest brother, Ferdinand Freudenham “Freud” Bates (the children’s outlandish names are a symptom of the mother’s obsessive grandiosity), is the heart of Cain’s narrative. Intended from birth to be the family’s golden boy, Freud was physically disabled as a child and prone to seizures due to a brain tumor. Cain observes his brother as boy and adult with both guilt and compassion. Regrettably, Dumas undercuts his impressive characters and dilutes Cain’s narrative with numerous verbose, pedantic digressions: “If you be one of the rare persons who needed support that wasn’t present or if inquietude frequented your life as warmth passed you by, then follow my thoughts for a moment….The place where one departs from is no longer the same place. It might have the appearance of sameness. Quantumwise, it is majorly altered.” Nor is the book served by the stilted “dear reader” device (“Reader, before I return to our story”; “At this juncture, dear reader”). And the sudden, cryptic ending seems to belong to a different novel entirely, or at least needs further explanation. Errors in the text (such as “spill” for spiel; “thrills” for trills; and “self” for shelf) require attention as well.
A coming-of-age tale with memorable and poignant characters but uneven prose.