American Dad Tama Janowitz (Picador £3.99) In her first novel. Tama Janowitz. the notorious wild-child ofAmerican writing. is not especially wild. The book is. however. a consistent subscriber to the school of American Neurotic Writing.
Unlike Janowitz‘s later and cultish ‘A Cannibal In Manhattan‘ and ‘Slaves of New York‘. 'American Dad‘. enjoying its first British publication. proves relatively meek. It tells. in well-padded detail. the story ofone gross. gauche son. Earl Przepasniak. who is weighed down by the burden of his psychiatrist father‘s pronouncements about him. Decreed an out-and-out failure. Earl. in the age-old father versus son Freudian model. sets about challenging and disproving his father‘s analyses.
An up-tight smart-ass. Earl gets involved with a menageric of unsuitable women and delivers a monologue on his family‘s divorce. his father‘s murder ofhis mother. his hang-ups and his aspirations. Witty psychological back-firings — as Earl and his brother refuse to share their father‘s joint in an act ofteenage rebellion which he dismisses as just a stage they‘re going through — are scattered throughout the novel.
In subject matter. ‘American Dad‘ covers familiar pubescence and anxiety ground. It works well when the bizarre is merely dipped into — but Janowitz occasionally over-indulges and the vogueish quirkiness becomes unfashionably tiresome. (Kristina Woolnough)
Collaborators Janet Kauffman (Cape £10.95) ‘My mother lied to me about everything‘. Nevertheless. she remained the dominant force in Andrea Doria‘s life. Binding her daughter with indestructible threads ofcontrol and fascination. this electric woman cast an impregnable halo around the child‘s life.
Told through Andrea‘s simple. lyrical voice. ‘Collaborators‘ is an impressionistic sketch of two strong women. a picture to be savoured for its unusual language and method.
Set in the Mennonite tobacco-lands of Pennsylvania. where religion is a tight. dictating force and the rhythms of life are those of the crops. it tells of the tough. jagged bond between this
pair. from their earliest years together. when Andrea‘s mother appeared superhuman to the child. to the time of her stroke. when she becomes helpless and vulnerable. Kauffman‘s imagery can be biting. and much of it is highly personal. slightly obscure. as is the advice the mother trickles out. leaving Andrea. I suspect. as bemused as I sometimes was. This work. however. is deliciously formed from shards of insight and image. glittering like light on water and creating a complete picture. a powerful creation ofemotional currents and tensions which. even after the mother's death. are difficult to fathom. (Rosemary Goring)
The Life Game Nigel Watts ( Hodder & Stoughton £11.95) Kate. a woman on the run from the chaos ofa doomed love affair in London. also
INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS VERSUS COMMUNITY SPIRIT
“Children of Disobedience' bears all the hallmarks of a conventional heterosexual love story. The lovers lace separation, agonising self-doubt and the torture of unrequited love. They are finally re-united and they sail off together into the sunset.
But initial impressions are deceptive: Alison Findlay Johnson has chosen to blend two distinctive genres which take the novel outside the bournes of convention. It is set on a fictional Hebridean island and it is about a gay love affair. Alison Findlay Johnson opted for that combination in an attempt to move away from the restrictions of Scottish writing: ‘I felt that it was time that we did get the two elements together. Books get very stereotyped. While I was getting this one published, one or two people said that you can’t have a book about the Hebrides with a happy ending, or you can’t have a book about the Hebrides that deals with gays. Books about Scotland either have this rather romantic or rather tough Scottish image. Books about gays are read primarily by gays and not by anyone else. That seemed to me terrible. Books should broaden your horizons, not narrow them. You shouldn’t know exactly what you’re going to read when you start a book. You should have an open mind.‘
Thus it is that only when you are well into the middle parts of the novel does outsider Alan Cameron’s romantic interest in a young islander, Donnie,
has the misfortune to run over a sheep in rural Ireland. Its owner, Michael O‘Brien. is an old man destined to re-invent the fragments of Kate‘s life. A bargain is struck between the two in which she becomes the often reluctant partner in his ‘life game‘. This uneasy partnership gradually blossoms into an intense but brieflove-affair.
‘Things are as they are, and all this. . . dancing around we do is just a game. A life game.‘ So the unlikely hero Michael expounds as he takes his protegée Kate on a journey from confusion to self-acceptance. By shattering her preconceptions and assumptions, he is able to unravel the tangles of her life and build it anew.
‘The Life Game‘ is both a conventional love story and a philosophical adventure into the art ofself-awareness. Nigel Watts presents us with a modern-day parable. as Kate‘s city demons are exorcised by the seemingly omniscient Michael O‘Brien. (Ann Vinnicombe)
ON THE RUN
Vanished Mary McGarry Morris (Viking £1 1.95) Travelling through a Steinbeck landscape ofsmall towns and smaller minds. the hapless lives
become clear. Until then, Donnie has attracted Cameron only in an aesthetic way. The duo’s relationship gave Johnson scope to explore pastoral writing: ‘lt’s a literary form that I’ve been interested in for a long time. It seemed that a pastoral love story could only be done in modern times if it wasn’t too easy for the lovers to get together. The only way of writing the story I wanted to write - with a barrier put in the way of the lovers and the resultant incomprehension all round - was to make the lovers the same sex.’
The disclosure of the love affair to the islanders causes something of an upheaval. To preserve their traditional values, they close ranks and set about separating the lovers by any means. The psychopathic Murdo tries to kill his brother Donnie who has, according to the Bible and the Minister, brought shame upon the family. The community, once hospitable and friendly to Alan, is now violently hostile. But Murdo, although clearly despised for his prejudice, is portrayed by Johnson as a basically good
of Aubrey, Dotty and Canny are picked up after five years on the run. In a stunning debut, the author excels in the North American tradition ofdramatic realism. and creates a modern-day fable.
Dotty, disturbed and with a chilling capacity for violence. entangles Aubrey in her ﬂight from authority and abuse. Simple-minded and anxious, Aubrey ‘can‘t think straight. Dotty gets him too scared.‘ He had never strayed from his Vermont mountain and family till fate and Dotty intervened. and now he is lost in time and place. An abducted child, Canny. is his stability. the focus of his love and constant reminder ofhis ineptitude.
The three vanish from their previous existences with ease. allowing impulse and crime to dictate their course. As the tension rises, for the first time in his life. Aubrey is forced to secure his own future.
This rich and enduring story, shot through with subtle social comment, augurs well for future works. (Laura Wilson)
Motherland Timothy O‘Grady (Chatto & Windus £1 1 .95) The porcine hero of this story — call him
member of the community: ‘llo-one likes him, but he is useful to the community. He works hard and he will continue his family line. Donnie is liked, but he runs against the community’s values. It's this dichotomy between individual values and community values. As mainlanders we’re very used to thinking of the individual ones—our individual worth, other individuals— ratherthan thinking of our part in the community, our part in the whole. In Hebridean communities, people still think oi their duties to other people before they think of themselves. Except iortheir united intolerance, l'm praising the community for their selliessness.’
Despite her intentions, there is something uneasy about Johnson’s mixing of conventions and stereotypes. That Bonnie and Alan are both overly sensitive, fearful of blood and brutlshness galls. Alan is also the island’s schoolteacher and Bonnie is his pupil.
Johnson, by trying to turn the gay issue to her own uses, has imposed the literary patterns of heterosexual writing on her gay characters. Perhaps because Johnson, herself an island-dweller and outsider, is equivocal about the community's response to the bloody necessities of island life and to the community’s code of values, the issues are smudged. She's trying to make a point, but is hampered in the telling of it by the fact that she sees and presents both sides of the story. (Tina Allen)
‘Children Of Disobedience' is published by Andre Deutsch at £12.95.
The List 24 February — 9 March 59