A BOWL OF CHERRIES by Shena Mackay


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A cast of definably colorful and singular characters in a surprisingly affecting tale of family love and deceit from Britisher Mackay (Toddler on the Run, 1966; Old Crow, 1967). Veering with precipitous speed from the hilariously absurd to the genuinely pathetic without ever coming a cropper, Mackay tells the story of twin brothers Rex and Stanley, whose lives are irrevocably linked to the end. Rex, the successful twin, has published a first novel to critical acclaim, and then written a series of successful mystery stories with wife Daphne, but Rex is unhappy. So is Stanley, now a short-order cook living in a grimy boardinghouse. A minor poet of the 1940's, Stanley, while working in a coal mine as a conscientious objector during the war, had seen brother Rex not only inherit the family estate, by rights his as the eldest, but marry Stanley's girl, Daphne. There are further fraternal thefts to be revealed. Understandably, Stanley drinks a lot. Meanwhile, Daisy, Rex and Daphne's daughter, is not happy either. Told that her lover's wife had committed suicide, she was driven by guilt to marry aspiring realtor Julian, who dreams only of perfectly maintained houses. Seamus, Rex's illegitimate son, who lives with his poet-mother and her latest lover, is also unhappy and runs away from boarding school to reveal his identity to Daisy. Seamus, too, has a secret--a family secret of devastating but ultimately cathartic potential. In finely crafted scenes close to black-humored farce, but palpably on the edge of genuine despair, Daisy is freed not only of the awful Julian but of her guilt as well--the family housekeeper, a gothic horror, had lied to her; Stanley dies a hero's death; and Rex, chastened by damning revelations, determines to make amends. A dark romp but told with great panache and empathy. An unusual mix but it works--exceedingly well.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1992
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Moyer Bell--dist. by Rizzoli