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THE ELEPHANT by Richard Rayner

THE ELEPHANT

By Richard Rayner

Pub Date: March 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-679-40725-1
Publisher: Random House

 A Yorkshire journalist finds himself overdrawn at the Bank of Morality as he competes with the mythic image of his lying, boozing, womanizing father; Rayner (Los Angeles Without a Map, 1989) dishes out loaded material with surprisingly little impact. Narrator Headingley (named for a cricket field) Hamer comes on strong with a voice that teases, crackles, and compels throughout the first chapter: an invented pickup scene; fast, sharp ruminations about morality; an account of childhood with an undertaker-father (who, during a death shortage, fights for his market share by sabotaging his competitors' hearses) and with a sister ``who read the stories of Edgar Allan Poe as if they were newspaper reports.'' Hamer senior has an obsession about ``going to see the elephant''--his code for pursuing risk and emotional extravagance through megalomaniac lies and gestures, criminal connections, and femmes fatales. When his wife leaves him, he lies in a coffin crying and tells the children that she's died. But, alas, once past the opening, Rayner can't maintain his grip, and the story goes flat in spite of orgies, a murderous villain, a faked death, father and son ``corking'' each other's women, and even a scene in which Headingley and his brother corner the old man and try to kill him. Rayner's narrator often addresses the reader, explicitly seeking to seduce. At first he comes close to scoring, but as his account degenerates--becomes long-winded, confused, even tedious- -it's ultimately easy to say no.