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A promising first novel about the disintegration and partial recovery of one working-class family. Willy Harden's blue-collar grind is made all the more hellish by rebellious son Bobby and the fact that Bobby's twin brother, John, is mentally retarded. As seen through John's slow, chopped perspective, family life at the Hardens is a long shift of TV and work, occasionally punctuated by Bobby's violent outbursts and his father's equally violent brand of retributive discipline. As Bobby's delinquency evolves into professional crime, father Willy slowly burns off his anxiety in bouts of drinking, and his wife steeps herself in a distorted theology of vengeance. For a time, the family retains an eerie, unspoken code of loyalty; and when Bobby brutally murders a neighbor's Doberman, Willy and his clan form a circle of silence to shut out the police. But the bond finally breaks under the combined strain of violence, booze, and madness: Bobby leaves home to flee the police after a rub-out, and Willy's wife, after a long slide into dementia, is placed in a hospital, where she finally dies. Willy's alcoholism and later-diagnosed cancer chip away at what's left of the family; but when Willy dies, a reversal is in sight. John's aunt moves in and her fondness for his employer opens the possibility of a reconstructed family of sorts; and Bobby returns home in time to carry out his father's wish to be disposed of in a manner befitting his life: to burn rather than be buried. Despite the melodramatic elements, a solid debut novel--sustained in large part by the humanity and deftly handled voice of its man-child narrator.

Pub Date: Feb. 25th, 1987
Publisher: St. Martin's