Garnet Montrose returns home from Vietnam to small-town Virginia with injuries so terrible that people become ill at the sight of him. Seeking assistance and companionship in his isolation, Garnet hires two young male caretakers, Quintus and Daventry. His interest and curiosity are awakened by the books Quintus reads to him, but in the handsome Daventry he finds a powerful, transformative love unlike anything he has experienced before. In this story of the strange, moving relationship of these three men, by turns Gothic, mystical and grotesque, James Purdy has crafted one of his most memorable novels.
Widely acclaimed by critics during his lifetime and championed by writers as diverse as Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, and Jonathan Franzen, James Purdy (1914-2009) is now being rediscovered as a major figure in modern American literature. This long-awaited reissue of one of his finest works, In a Shallow Grave (1975), features a new introduction by Andrew Schenker, who argues that Purdy “provides a reading experience that is deeper, weirder, and ultimately more satisfying than the offerings of just about any other American novelist.”
“One of the very best writers we have.” - New York Times Book Review
“A marvelous tour-de-force . . . a very impressive book.” - Publishers Weekly
“A writer of the highest rank in originality, insight and power.” - Dorothy Parker
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A spectacular book. I picked it up years ago, but the beginning was too intense for me. I've since read some of his others and I went back to check it out again. It's off-the-charts great. Vivid characters, surprising contradictions, stellar writing. I rate it a 12 on a scale of 10.
The Shallow Grave is the space where the narrator, a horribly disfigured war veteran, lives. "Unnaturally" survived to a bomb blast, unlike all of his buddies, Grant Montrose returns to his native Virginia like a living corpse. Once an attractive, handsome man, his skin is now the color of mulberry and his veins show all over his body like in an anatomical chart. His long search for attendants to rub his feet, read him books and deliver the letter he writes for the beautiful Widow Rance, eventually brings two young men to his house: Quintus, a local black boy, and Daventry, a misterious young man from Utah. The four characters' lives become more and more intertwined, and the story, especially in the second half, takes the most inexpected turns. Beautifully written, heartwrenching, grotesque, dreamy. A book that maybe in time will get the attention it deserves. But you don't have to wait for that to happen to enjoy this marvelous piece of writing.