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Careful!

Author: Richard Madelin
Genre: Literary Fiction
Reviewed by Susan DiPlacido

575Alice named her sons Jack and Lenny. Jack for Kerouac, which aptly fits, as he took off ten years ago and hasn't been heard from since. Lenny for Lenny Bruce, though he more closely resembles Steinbeck's Lennie from Of Mice and Men. As a young child, Lenny suffered an accident which has left him mentally challenged. Not only does he have trouble learning complex tasks, but he lives in a repeated refrain where "white spaces" push through and mix him up. He has a friend at work who teaches him all the wrong things about women and whose boots he admires, and a neighbor up the road who he's convinced is going to allow him to have sex with her. Other than that, his world centers around his mother, Alice. And Alice's ideas of being a mother and caring for him include teaching him – Careful! – by snuffing cigarettes on his hand. Things take a mreviewed byore ominous turn when the prodigal son Jack, now a policeman, returns to town. Alice instructs Lenny to kidnap the brother he doesn't even remember, let alone recognize, and this sets in motion a chain of devastating realizations in this family.

Madelin tells this story in rotating third person limited POV, but it's so focused that it feels like first person intimate storytelling. He does an admirable job of not only sustaining the eerie inner voices and thoughts of both Alice and Lenny, but also of sustaining the reader and heightening curiosity with these challenging perspectives. This stylized inner POV could easily become a gimmick – or annoying – if not well written. But it's so deftly handled that's it not only brutally intriguing but also becomes downright riveting as the revelations pile up. It's a forceful and complex debut from Madelin.

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July 11, 2004 in Mainstream | Permalink

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