THIS COFFIN HAS NO HANDLES by Thomas McGrath

THIS COFFIN HAS NO HANDLES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Written by poet McGrath in 1947, previously unpublished (a condition attributed by some to politics), this vivid, muscular, but uneven fact-based novel mixes passages of surreal prose poetry, harsh realism informed by radical politics, and stream-of-consciousness techniques to relate one week in a brutal dockworkers' strike, creating a harrowing portrait of N.Y.C.'s West Side. First-person portions here are narrated by disillusioned CP organizer Joe Hunter, just out of the Army at the close of WW II. Joe shelves his dreams of moving west for duty to the Party and the strikers. McGrath leads a fragmented hour-by-hour tour of the strike, moving into third person to give us P.J. Kelly, the corrupt, aging union boss who rouses himself from daydreams of childhood to crush the strike; rank-and-file members, all embittered, none with hope of anything better; Munson, forced to choose between family and ideals; underground man Crip, a hired killer; Joe's friend Blackie Carmody, a cheap hood; and Blackie's sister Mary, opening her eyes to the lies of life. The strike remains unresolved when the novel closes with a haunted, frantic search for the body of a murdered organizer, leaving the Party's quixotic work as the only hope of redemption. A work of unquestionable power and possible brilliance, reminiscent of Hubert Selby, Jr., this disturbing novel is by turns murky and illuminated by a cold, unforgiving light. With its demanding prose and politics, general readers are unlikely to embrace so troubling a work. A pity.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1988
Publisher: Thunder's Mouth--dist. by Consortium (213 East Fourth St., St. Paul, MN 55101)