THE ICE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD by Mark Richard

THE ICE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This slim volume collects ten stories, including a few award-winners, and some previously published in Esquire, Antaeus, and The Quarterly. Together, they introduce a redneck poet with a gothic sensibility and a taste for white-trash slapstick. One of Richard's no-counts is so lowdown that his name is ""Uncle Trash,"" and he's supposed to watch his rambunctious nephews while their daddy lits out after their runaway mother. But the card-playing, Champale-chugging miscreant so neglects the boys that they manage to burn down the house in a conflagration worthy of Rube Goldberg (""Strays""). Equally hilarious, ""Happiness of the Garden Variety"" follows the wild antics of two good ole boys as they try to dispose of their landlord's dead horse, a nasty beast who dies a flatulent death. Richard's boyish narrators attend to the darker side of life on the bayou as well: one (in ""On the Rope"") records his grandfather's horrifying memories of a flood with biblical dimensions, a scene reminiscent of Faulkner's Wild Palms; another (in ""This is Us, Excellent"") fires his imagination with TV derring-do, and casually attests to being battered along with his brother and mother by his ugly-mean father. Death haunts a number of tales here: in ""Her Favorite Story,"" a hapless fellow who lives in a backwoods cabin reverts to an even more primitive state after his relic-hunting lover dies. The title piece includes a mercy-killing of the narrator's father-in-law, a seaman whose wife shoots him nine times, explaining ""one was for love, and the other eight were for something Bill said to me over dinner in front of company in nineteen sixty-six."" Weaker narratives about a potbellied Romeo (""Genius"") and a boy who thinks he's a fish (""Fish-boy"") sacrifice meaning for atmosphere. Others prove that living seaside can be dangerous for those with a nose for drugs (""The Theory of Man""), but the remote tidewater towns can also harbor the outcast--""Feast of the Earth, Ransom of the Clay"" is a somber poem to the local lunatic, a man who lives in a cave near Cemetery Ridge, eats refuse, wears cat-skins, and shows up for every funeral. Richard's slack-jawed narrators charm the pants off, and his raw-boned ones kick you in the butt--either way, he's a bold and outrageous talent.

Pub Date: April 6th, 1989
Publisher: Knopf