Not since Chief Bromden has there been a misfit narrator as large and compelling as 315-pound Anthony, the voice of this captivating debut novel by LaValle, author of the story collection Slapboxing with Jesus. At the book's outset, Anthony's family finds him "living wild" in his apartment, expelled from Cornell University and suffering bouts of dementia. They bring him home to his African-American Queens neighborhood, which, like Anthony himself, threatens to tip from middle-class propriety to a state of shabby but colorful disrepair. There's the local loan shark, Ishkabibble; white-collar neighbors concerned about their lawns; a pack of roving dogs with keen noses for human weakness. Most important, there's Anthony's family: grandmother, mother and sister, "three versions of the same woman-past, present and future," who are usually at war with one another. Anthony isn't the first mentally ill member of his family. His mother, unstable in her youth, becomes erratic again just as Anthony tries to parlay his vigor for housecleaning and his encyclopedic knowledge of low-budget horror movies into some sort of promising future. Throughout, Anthony reflects on his own condition and that of those around him in a smart, sad and honest voice. The narrative shimmers with his self-deprecating wit and unexpected images ("Her hair was a big loose spray of black semi-curls emanating from her skull like the sound waves of her rollicking conversation"). LaValle's first book left critics divided over whether it had the substance to match its mannered style. Similar questions may be raised this time around, but LaValle's sympathetic and original narrator is a remarkable creation. (Nov.) Forecast: LaValle has yet to match Junot D!az-a writer to whom he is often compared-in sales or recognition, but a growing number of readers see him as a dark-horse favorite in the young writer sweepstakes. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
LaValle tries out full-length fiction after his promising story collection, Slapboxing with Jesus. At its heart is Anthony James, an obese, 23-year-old schizophrenic, and his dysfunctional family. (LJ 10/1/02) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
A morbidly obese Puerto Rican misfit dominates the sleazy comic landscape of this intermittently amusing first novel from LaValle, author of the vivid story collection slapboxing with jesus (1999). Three-hundred-something-pound Anthony James (also in slapboxing) lives in a multicultural Brooklyn neighborhood with his adolescent sister Nabisase, svelte mother (herself a former fattie), and frail (but mean--really mean) elderly grandmother. He’s "a twenty-three-year-old college dropout, a girthy goon suffering bouts of dementia" who works sporadically as a house-cleaner, hangs out with a loan shark named Ishkabibble, and makes mental notes for an "encyclopedia" of the sicko horror films he’s hooked on. Anthony, who narrates, has a fulsome comic voice that’s more than a little too reminiscent of that of John Kennedy Toole’s Ignatius Reilly (A Confederacy of Dunces). Toole time, so to speak, is also suggested by the frantic plot, which centers in a trip to Lumpkin, Virginia, to enter Nabisase in a regional beauty contest for virgins ("The Miss Innocence Pageant"), and also involves Anthony with a "foundation" formed to support a serial malefactor who has reinvented himself as "Ahmed Abdel," his neighborhood’s menacing layabouts and loose canines, and his likewise catastrophically overweight buddy, moribund Ledric Mayo. Nabisase marches toward womanhood, their mother keeps picking up unsuitable men, Grandma ages like rancid wine--and Anthony spins his wheels sardonically, occasionally getting off a few good ones ("I am the unattractive America"; a favorite B-movie The Dead Reserved a Room is thumbnailed as "a quieter version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"). But the overall impression is of awriter who’s laboring to knock us dead with one farcical exaggeration after another. LaValle has energy and wit to burn, but really ought to store some of it. Thus far, the short story seems to be his forte.
“A compassionate mystery of madness . . . gritty and funny, both smart-alecky and dark.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Bristles with visionary energy.” —Vanity Fair
“One of our most talented young writers.” —Charles Baxter
“His characters remind one of Chester Himes and Charles Wright, but LaValle is special.” —Ishmael Reed
Proves that Victor LaValle is a voice to be reckoned with for years to come.” —Ernesto Quiñonez, author of Bodega Dreams
“[The] characters are as beautifully rendered as they are bizarrely believable. . . . LaValle . . . writes prose that hums in your ear and appeals to your intellect.” —The Washington Post Book World