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 From acclaimed Australian novelist Carey (Oscar and Lucinda, 1988; Illywhacker, 1985, etc.), a brilliantly realized, dark comedic story of a dysfunctional but ingenuous family. Most of the Catchprice family, including charismatic matriarch Frieda, live on the premises of their failing GM dealership in the Sydney suburbs. Frieda, who since girlhood has carried sticks of gelignite in her handbag, regrets that she never established the flower farm of her dreams, yet she acknowledges her responsibility for founding what became a succession of family enterprises. Daughter Cathy and son-in-law Howie have their hearts set on careers in country music, but Frieda won't let them or son Mort, who has his own dreams, leave. Only son Jack, a prosperous developer, and grandson Johnny, a Hare Krishna follower, have escaped. The Catchprices, though, are also a family of contradictions: ``big ones for kissing and cuddling, but you could not predict them. You could not rely on them for anything important.'' And then there are the family skeletons, never fully acknowledged until the literally explosive climax. When young Benny, Mort's abused and troubled son, decides to transform his life and become an ``Angel of Plagues,'' catharsis is inevitable. But the actual catalyst is provided by pregnant and unmarried Maria, the tax collector who comes to audit the books. The past is revealed; irrevocable decisions are made; and Benny, in love with Maria, creates his own bizarre scenario. Only the birth of Maria's baby amidst the resultant mayhem offers some hope. Powerful writing, and the Catchprices are all memorable, but the subtext of a wider corruption as insidious as that which maims this family seems more a reflection of fashionable angst than the reality of a country like Australia. Still, very good.

Pub Date: Jan. 17th, 1992
ISBN: 0679735984
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1991


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