THE MAIDEN APE by Robert Brancatelli


Email this review


Brancatelli's tenebrous first novel is as hazily focused and parched of imagination as its setting--a great California drought. It's the late summer of 1967 and California is in the grip of a devastating rainlessness. Sweating its way to Santa Cruz is the Miller and Johnson Circus, and tagging along are itinerant ne'er-do-well antique (read: junk) dealer Sam ""Rube"" Rubeneau, and his 12-year-old son, Larry. Rube's wife, Mary, has just died of leukemia, and father and son are mourning in different ways: Larry (who has an unspecified ""glandular"" problem which causes other kids to pick on him) has become mute, and Rube--guiltily bemoaning his ill-treatment of Mary and Larry--is dreaming of that big score that will salvage the present from the wreck of his past. Along the way they hook up with 25-year-old pregnant Mexican runaway Ana Rood, whose fatal flaw is apparently a weakness for underdogs: she falls in love with Rube, and tries to mother Larry into speech. Arriving in Santa Cruz, Rube sets up shop on the outskirts of the circus and coaxes Ana into putting on an old flea-bitten ape suit and performing a kind of sideshow dance to draw customers to the antiques. This humiliation of Ana summons up past humiliations of Mary, so Rube drinks his last drop of peach brandy and throws himself into the ocean, although not without homespun philosophy: ""Even the water struggles. The tide isn't easy for any man, and if he wants to go against it, then he'd better be sure and strong and steady."" The shock causes Larry to utter his first word (""Rube!""), but he's comforted by Ana (""Let it out, Larry. Let out all of the pain you've kept inside for so long. Cry it out, cry until you can't give another tear""), and the two of them travel off together just as the rains begin to fall. As thin and dumbly symbolic as it sounds.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1986
Publisher: Mercury--dist. by Kampmann (9 East 40 St., New York, NY 10016)