TYPICAL by Padgett Powell


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 This first collection by the author of Edisto and A Woman Named Drown is an odd and arresting mix of full-length stories and lots of little pieces--none of them conventional by any means, and all of them typical of Powell's goofy, southern-inflected lust for language. Powell's snippets include a number of fractured profiles of strange people and places gone weird. There are: ``Dr. Ordinary'' and his litany of the things he finds odious; ``General Rancidity,'' hated all over his military base because ``only the truly rancid themselves could run with him''; ``Mr. Nefarious,'' who smiles about his girlfriend and a fancy outdoor bench; ``Mr. Desultory,'' who gives in to regression because he cannot do things in succession; and ``Miss Resignation,'' who loses at Bingo so much she decides to smoke the cards. Powell clearly agrees with the notion voiced here that ``character is nothing but warts.'' Place fares poorly too: ``Kansas'' is defined by the absence of farming; ``Texas'' is a list of things done and some know-nothing aphorisms; ``South Carolina'' finds the pickup-driving narrator molesting a belle at a fancy cotillion; and ``Florida'' is a drunk lament about what used to be. In Powell's mordant and absurd world, you watch a flood (``Flood'') and a body floats into your arms; you work as a roofer and your buddy decapitates himself in a fall on the job (``Wayne's Fate''); you ramble and drink in the woods, and someone offers perversion (``Proposition''). Faulknerian style and subject come in for some direct ribbing. ``Wait'' sidetracks a rococo turn about a bulldog and a corncob with some plain talk; and ``Lebove and Son,'' a postscript to The Hamlet, considers the consequences of literary revelation. Not quite so academic, but metafictional in their own bizarre way, are ``Mr. Irony,'' a tale of ``low-affect living edged with self-deprecating irony''; and ``Mr. Irony Renounces Irony,'' the confessions of a style abuser. The much- reprinted title story is the narrative of a true underground man, an admitted ``piece of crud'' and unemployed steelworker who thinks he's just ``Typical.'' Lyrically intense and full of the surreal juxtapositions you find in the flotsam of floodwaters: stories at once edgy and exuberant.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-374-28022-3
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1991


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