At least once a day, Red's grandmother beats him so severely that the snot flies out of his nose. The son of an absent drunk of a father and a passive-aggressive mother, Red is offered up as the scapegoat for all of Grandma's rage. Smacked, whipped, systematically humiliated and degraded while his cowed grandfather stands by, Red's anything but ...
At least once a day, Red's grandmother beats him so severely that the snot flies out of his nose. The son of an absent drunk of a father and a passive-aggressive mother, Red is offered up as the scapegoat for all of Grandma's rage. Smacked, whipped, systematically humiliated and degraded while his cowed grandfather stands by, Red's anything but idyllic childhood mirrors the hardships his Irish-Catholic, Depression-era family suffers. Grandma's frustrations stem from a lifetime of disappointment. Once, before she was consumed by bitterness, life held promise for her, but the promise was never fulfilled. Someone must bear the burden of blame for the failure of her hopes, and Grandma is ingenious at devising methods to inflict pain on Red. What we witness is the making of a monster: Red the boy becomes Red the Fiend. In elegant and gripping, brilliant prose, Gilbert Sorrentino has portrayed a world in which everyone is a victim, inescapably and hopelessly trapped in self-loathing and hatred.
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Publishers Weekly, 1994-11-21 Red, the barely adolescent Irish-American antihero of Sorrentino's latest novel, lives with his mother at his grandparents' dingy Brooklyn home, where he's become the perennial target of his grandmother's sadistic hatred. When she makes an egg too runny and soft, Red is punished; when she finds lice in his hair, she comments that the infestation is a sign of his inherent evil and douses his head with vinegar. Patrolling the comings and goings of her family, belittling the occasional excess like ladyfingers (``those God damned Protestant cakes'') or a movie, whipping Red mercilessly, Grandma strangles the household into an eerie submission. In the process, she turns the stolid, helpless Red into a ``fiend'' who flogs himself with her belts and rarely rises above a state of pummeled apathy. Sorrentino (Under the Shadow), who's a poet as well as novelist, recreates with immaculate care Red's brutally dysfunctional family and the dangerous city streets (circa 1940) into which the boy escapes. The violence and pain of his tale jars with the aloof serenity of his writing, however, and, for all his craftsmanship, his characters, so grim, gray and mutilated, probably won't stoke the interest of many readers for long. (Jan.)
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