TIDELAND by Mitch Cullin


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Cullin returns to the rural Texas landscape of his Whompyjawed (1999) and Branches (p. 5), in a narrative that veers unevenly between mordant humor and a self-conscious quirkiness that too often undercuts his real gift for language and invention.

The precocious and preternaturally observant adolescent narrator, Jeliza-Rose, is a classic American literary type reminiscent of Harper Lee’s Scout and Carson McCullers’s Frankie. After her mother dies of a drug overdose, Jeliza-Rose and her father move from Los Angeles to Texas, returning to What Rocks, the farm that belonged to her late grandmother. Her father, Noah—also a former junkie—is a gifted guitarist and songwriter who dreams of moving to Denmark. Why Denmark? Like much else here, the reason seems rooted less in a coherent narrative structure than in authorial whimsy. Nothing particularly pressing keeps father and daughter living at What Rocks, other than a lack of money and of will to go anywhere else. Jeliza-Rose is left to fend for herself, and, like children everywhere, she has a prodigious imagination that keeps her continually diverted while her neglectful father lapses into a terminal dreaminess. She befriends a lonely scarecrow of a man called Dickens, an eccentric woman, Dell, who likes to wander around wearing a beekeeper's protective mask, and a stuttering boy named Patrick. Jeliza-Rose also calls on a large collection of Barbie dolls for amusement. Cullin has a wonderful feel for the big and wide Texas landscape that Jeliza-Rose finds herself in. His descriptions of how a child can happily lose herself in the long grass, wildflowers, and mesquite are lyrical without being precious.

There's not much of a story for Cullin to hang his sharply drawn, often poignant evocation of childhood on. Still, his feel for the painful awkwardness and sensitivity of adolescence is worth the trip.

Pub Date: Aug. 28th, 2000
ISBN: 0-8023-1335-3
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Dufour
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2000


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