THE SOUTH AFRICAN QUIRT by Walter D. Edmonds
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THE SOUTH AFRICAN QUIRT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Edmonds, whose writings stretch back from 1975's Bert Breen's Barn (a YA award-winner) to Rome Haul (1929), returns with a plain, quietly intense autobiographical novel--about the coming-of-age summer of 1915. Natty Dunston, twelve, is alone with his lawyer-father at the family's summer place, a farm in upstate New York: Natty's frail mother has returned to Manhattan with his younger sister; his older brother is visiting boarding-school chums. So, for the first time, Natty is getting the full brunt of Mr. Dunston's severe, narrow, tyrannical personality. At first, in response to his father's demanding, belittling harangues, Natty tries hard to please. But he soon starts to sense the selfishness and cruelty at work in Mr. Dunston's aggressively manly ways--in the callous manipulation of servants, in the feverish approach to hunting, in the inconsistency of Dunstonian morality. (Mr. Dunston, always quick to attack Natty as a ""liar and a coward,"" is himself far from upright.) Natty also begins to understand the primary source of his mother's mysterious sorrow and fear. And after Natty is unfairly, sadistically punished with an agonizing lashing (his father uses the thick riding-crop of the title), he moves ever more forcefully into an attitude of quiet, firm resistance: he shrewdly protects his beloved dog from Mr. Dunston's machinations; he draws strength from good-hearted neighbors, from the woodsy surroundings; and Natty will finally reach the point where he truly recognizes ""the uncertainty behind those stating blue eyes"" of his elderly father, feeling pity instead of triumph. The unadorned narration and the vivid specifics (a secret hunting expedition, the lashing and its after-effects) make this an outstanding entry for the YA readership. But older readers, too, will be held and rewarded--by the sharp evocation of childhood terror, by the sophisticated psychological shadings that show up between the lines.

Pub Date: April 10th, 1985
Publisher: Little, Brown