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Broad social comedy by the English author of Home Thoughts, Loving Roger, and Tongues of Flame--a boisterous madcap tale, often epistolary, about an odd family burdened with a paranoid schizophrenic. Raymond Baldwin--the book's centerpiece--is a burly, intimidating man who terrorizes his family, a group of characters who each hit one note: mother Brenda is ""a rapid deployment unit, ready to head for any situation where she might make herself useful""; father Frank (""an ignorant presumptuous fool,"" according to Brenda) tries to retire to the pleasures of his family, but his banality increases family tensions; daughter Lorna has an on-again/off-again marriage to Fred, an American (""Death to the Yankee imperialists,"" Raymond writes, threatening, among other things, to sic the Ayatollah on them), and constantly bites her mental nails; and twins Garry and Graham are, respectively, an impoverished would-be politico and an affluent businessman. The Baldwins--who ""were perfectly capable of arguing for hours, and heatedly, over decisions taken 30 years before""--play a game of musical chairs with Raymond (who never takes his pills) and with each other: Brenda moves to Lorna and Fred's after breaking her wrist, then decides impulsively to try to get the estranged twins together; Lorna leaves Fred; Raymond is put into an institution after an attack and returns on sedatives; Frank unretires and goes overseas again, washing his hands of Raymond; an four children come together and Raymond chops up the family cat; and finally Garry takes in Raymond, who writes to the International Court of Human Rights that ""they have been substituting the members of my family with other beings. . ."" Though Parks' fourth sometimes jumpstarts itself at the expense of continuity, its farcical energy makes it a rambunctious read.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Grove