FISHBOY by Mark Richard


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 The promise of Richard's story collection The Ice at the Bottom of the World (which won the 1990 PEN/Hemingway Award) is only fitfully apparent in his surrealistic first novel about a boy and his first sea voyage. He is a reject, this eponymous Fishboy, ``thrown from a car into a side-road swamp.'' He has always done for himself. His home is a box, and his nemesis is Big Miss Magine, an enormous black woman out of a nightmare. He works with fish, hence his name, shucking shellfish, hauling baskets alongside black workers, mostly women, by the shore in the South. He longs to go to sea despite his puny size and effeminate ways. He gets his chance when the crew of a small ship brawl with the fishworkers. Fishboy stabs Big Miss Magine in self-defense, loses consciousness, wakes to find himself on board. This in an ill-omened ship (Fishboy has already seen the ship's cook axed to death) with a crew of criminals and freaks (an idiot, a tattooed giant, an inside-out man); in their company, Fishboy is diminished into just another luckless cabin-boy, without a goal to put some spine into a mÇlange of anecdotes, little fables, riffs on rogue waves and ship's cooks (Richard is oddly fixated on cooks and spit-in-the-soup routines). And the touches of magic realism (the giant's tattoos are a body-map to guide him to the mermaid who saved his life) seem secondhand. Eventually, battered by a rogue wave, Fishboy finds himself back on land, the main ingredient in Big Miss Magine's cooking-pot, his last stop before ghosthood. The transition from short-story to novel has proven difficult for Richard (a story titled ``Fishboy'' appears in his collection); and his incantatory style, thrilling at the start, looks too effortful over the long haul.*justify

Pub Date: May 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-385-42560-0
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1993


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