BORN WITH THE CENTURY by William Kinsolving
Kirkus Star


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Apparently taking his inspiration from any number of TV mini-series, Kinsolving has jerry-rigged a catchall family saga that sticks close to the old rags-to-riches formula: as wealth increases, so do woe, scandal, and Mafia involvement. Thus, as Scots immigrant punk Magnus MacPherson builds a U.S. empire out of Canada-based bootleg whiskey in the Twenties (with mob connections that make Albert Anastasia his archenemy), his personal life is non-stop misery: neglected wife Mary (whom Magnus wins despite her snobbish family's fury) succumbs to religious mania and commits suicide in front of their youngest child; elder son Magnus II quickly grows into evil incarnate, a fiendish pimp-pusher-sadist who determines to destroy his father; daughter Weedee becomes an alcoholic; and young son Jamie will be a repressed monk who can only lose his virginity when flagellated. Kinsolving just piles on the aberrations--with only the most unconvincing nods to psychology--as papa Magnus leaves the kids in his sister's care and beds down elsewhere: first with an ex-prostitute/rising filmstar in Hollywood, then (in Washington doing WW II service by converting distilleries to ethyl alcohol) with young mistress/assistant Iris. And all-out scandal erupts when Magnus II seduces Iris, is discovered flagrante delicto by Magnus I, and is killed in the ensuing fracas: Iris goes bonkers, Magnus I goes to prison, and doubt is raised about the paternity of Iris' lovechild Gus--is he the son of Magnus I or Il? So: on to the next generation for incest (Gus and Weedee's druggy daughter Ellen), a mob murder (Weedee's wee son) that must be avenged by old Magnus, and struggles for control of the empire as Magnus almost dies of a stroke. No shortage of plot, then--plus the usual guest appearances by historical figures. But, though Kinsolving writes mostly in decent, basic easy-to-read (dialogue is weakest here), the tacked-on contrivances of the kitchen-sink plotting are glaring; even worse, the backgrounds are colorless and the characters are uniformly unengaging, with a big empty space where lonely hero Magnus' ambitious charisma should be. Still, it's hard-working and relatively painless, so--with the help of book-club hoopla--it will probably do as well as the dozens of other sagas it so mechanically resembles.

Pub Date: Sept. 6th, 1979
Publisher: Putnam