TENEMENT OF CLAY by Paul West

TENEMENT OF CLAY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A secular savior takes a derelict into his crumbling brownstone with predictably gloomy results--first US publication for this early (1965) novel by the author of The Women of Whitechapel and Jack the Ripper, Lord Byron's Doctor, etc. Edward Nicholas, a.k.a. Papa Nick, is a man with a mission: the free home he provides in the northeastern city of New Babylon for the likes of Brownie, Rachel, Johnny Sligo, Mazzini, and Edgar the Time. One day Papa Nick and dwarf wrestler Pee Wee Lazarus make a new acquisition, John Lacland, a fully grown Wild Child who can scarcely speak or tolerate light, shoes, and open spaces. Determining to humanize Lacland, Papa Nick takes him in, shelters him in a crate, locks him in a reassuring basement room, and embarks on a course of urban acculturation--climaxing in a grimly humorous evening at ringside for one of Lazarus' wrestling matches. But Lacland is no Kaspar Hauser, and Papa Nick, the sonorous ``custodian become jailer,'' succeeds only in deculturating himself in a hallucinatory folie Ö trois, as Lacland talks him out of his high-minded ideals and Lazarus ends selling naughty negligees through the mail. This depressing tale is garnished with grotesque secondary figures (like Papa Nick's movie-star lover Venetia and Mimi, the blond whom Lacland meets while he's cheering on Lazarus) and presented in a prose poetry redolent of Poe, Eliot, Beckett, Grass, and Tristram Shandy, though still less florid--perhaps because of loyalty to its models--than that of West's more recent, no-holds-barred style-pieces. Not a must read, or a fun read, but curiously prophetic of the recent calamitous effects of enforced acculturation in places like united Germany.

Pub Date: Feb. 19th, 1993
ISBN: 0-929701-27-5
Page count: 224pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1992




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