THE BROOKLYN BOOK OF THE DEAD by Michael Stephens

THE BROOKLYN BOOK OF THE DEAD

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Poet, playwright, and award-winning essayist Stephens puts the fun in dysfunctional with his second novel about the Irish-American Cooles (Season at Coole, 1972). Here, family patriarch Jack Coole, once a customs inspector on Manhattan's West Side docks, has died in Florida retirement. His 16 children drift back to the old neighborhood, Brooklyn's East New York slums, for the funeral. They remember their ``cursed progenitor'' in inarticulate conversation and supple inner monologues, their language a tenement symphony of Italian, Jewish, and Irish street lingo from a generation or two ago. Meanwhile, the dead man--himself motherless from the age of five, a drinker, brawler, and brutal father but good provider--remains opaque and unknown, a figure of vague legend and precisely remembered grievance to his children. They are the walking wounded, third- generation Irish-Americans, still looking for a home. They've outlived brother-sister incest, torture, and casually attempted murder to become, among other things, the city's oldest crack addict, a recovered alcoholic kept in balance by lithium, a fireman with a burnt-out face, a nun in retreat from the world, and a homeless bum the family calls ``Psycho.'' Angry, funny and tender, rather than grim, Stephens is a poet of the negative, the failed, the shameful, who can match Samuel Beckett for dour comedy and Joyce (a bit self-consciously at times) for the lyric lilt. But his subject is American in the line of Henry Roth and Ginsberg's Kaddish: immigrants driven mad by the confusion and harshness of their surroundings. At least the Cooles live to bury their old man and tell his tales. Among the blacks who inherited their inner-city hell, Stephens reminds us, it's the old man these days who bury the young. In five long chapters of increasing power, Stephens dismantles the American dream.

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 1994
ISBN: 1-56478-037-6
Page count: 238pp
Publisher: Dalkey Archive
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1993




SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

IndieTHE IMITATION OF PATSY BURKE by John J. Gaynard
by John J. Gaynard