Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Brooklyn Book of the Dead

The Brooklyn Book of the Dead

by Michael Stephens
In The Brooklyn Book of the Dead, Michael Stephens presents the most devastating vision of the Irish-American family since the nightmarish portrayals of Eugene O'Neill and James T. Farrell. Returning to their Brooklyn neighborhood for the wake and funeral of their father (Customs Inspector Leland Coole, aka Jackie Ducks, Little Lee, Crazy Jack, but remembered by his


In The Brooklyn Book of the Dead, Michael Stephens presents the most devastating vision of the Irish-American family since the nightmarish portrayals of Eugene O'Neill and James T. Farrell. Returning to their Brooklyn neighborhood for the wake and funeral of their father (Customs Inspector Leland Coole, aka Jackie Ducks, Little Lee, Crazy Jack, but remembered by his children as the "old bastard"), the sixteen Coole children talk and reminisce about their father and family; all adults now, their lives have been painful failures involving drugs, alcoholism, violence, petty crime, incest, and despair. Like any truly emotionally crippled children of a dysfunctional family, the Cooles rant with bitterness about their pasts but likewise romanticize their family, coupling an ability to analyze their plight with an utter inability to do anything about it. The novel is also the story of the decline of urban America and the story of third-generation immigrants who are both cut off from their roots and yet unassimilated into the illusory American melting pot. Stephens writes of all this with a passion and love of his materials. And he writes bravely because this is a book that will be attacked by those who believe in the mythical American family invoked by "family-values" politicians and wealthy evangelists. If Stephens has a message at all, it is that families are diseases made fatal by a cynical American society.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this sequel to The Season of Coole , the Brooklyn funeral of J. Leland Coole, retired Irish-American customs inspector, draws all 16 of his children to the casket, and the surge of common memory among the survivors gives family values an awful beating. The force compelling the Cooles to gather by the ``rotten old bastard,'' whose ``voice alone set off all the old post-traumatic shock syndromes,'' is a legacy of his brutal fathering. But expect no standard gropings for self-knowledge, confessions of failure, love-hate ordeals or other genre cliches here--the situation is far beyond conventional remedy. The 10 boys, in or approaching middle age, are criminals, alcoholics, addicts and thugs; the six girls express the family psychosis more passively, but share it. Stephens's stream-of-consciousness blend of anecdote and recollection, psychologically real and stylistically natural, dominates his unplotted narrative, which moves among the 16 figures, probing their failures to forge any sense of moral accountability. Remarkably, although idiosyncrasies are noted, the 16 do not distinguish themselves particularly as characters; they register clearly only as elements in the collective dysfunction. Even more remarkably, the account is witty, thoughtful and absorbingly readable, as well as an important study of urban violence. (Mar.)
Library Journal
The 16 sons and daughters of Leland Coole gather for his funeral in their old neighborhood in East New York, Brooklyn. They're ``joined together, not so much by a name or blood . . . or family ties'' but ``by the terror and misery their father inflicted upon them.'' As they ``wake . . . his sorry ass'' in old Irish fashion, they drink, smoke dope, insult each other, argue, and remember, dredging up bitter memories of intimidation and abuse. From Paddy, a ``marginalized Bohemian who'd gone to art school,'' to Terry, an incoherent derelict who lives in an abandoned bus, the ten sons all share their father's drunkenness and violence to varying degrees. The sisters, ``small, tough, and pretty,'' include Oona, a former Hare Krishna nun, and tattooed Samantha, whose former boyfriend, Johnny Stiletto, was the ``quintessential greaseball.'' Stephens, sharp enough not to find literary ``dignity'' in the dysfunctional House of Coole, does evoke a sad irony and gritty humor from the bleakness and grime of their lives. Recommended for general readers.-- Ron Antonucci, Hudson Lib. & Historical Soc . , Ohio
David Cline
Stephens presents a thick stew of an Irish family, milling around a decrepit Brooklyn during the wake of their domineering, abusive, adored, and still lurking father. Through most of the sixteen Coole children were raised on Long Island, their father requested he be waked in the old neighborhood, and so the children, now mostly middle-aged and seeing very little of each other, reunite to wade through their lives. It is the story of the crumbling of neighborhoods, identities, and one particularly strong family. This is the third generation of Cooles in America, although they are, they find, more divided and separated from their roots and each other than they are assimilated into American life. They exist in an unsure middle-ground. And they have not escaped carrying the legacy of their father with them into their lives, a legacy that includes alcoholism, incest, humiliation, fear, and violence. This is dark, brutal stuff, as far from family values and the Brady Bunch as one's likely to get. Butt Stephens writes with a passion for the streets, for the thickness of emotion that hangs like smoke around the Cooles, and with--as much as is possible--empathy for these fractured, wandering characters.
Kirkus Reviews
Poet, playwright, and award-winning essayist Stephens puts the fun in dysfunctional with his second novel about the Irish-American Cooles (Season at Coole, 1972). Here, family patriarch Jack Coole, once a customs inspector on Manhattan's West Side docks, has died in Florida retirement. His 16 children drift back to the old neighborhood, Brooklyn's East New York slums, for the funeral. They remember their "cursed progenitor" in inarticulate conversation and supple inner monologues, their language a tenement symphony of Italian, Jewish, and Irish street lingo from a generation or two ago. Meanwhile, the dead man—himself motherless from the age of five, a drinker, brawler, and brutal father but good provider—remains opaque and unknown, a figure of vague legend and precisely remembered grievance to his children. They are the walking wounded, third- generation Irish-Americans, still looking for a home. They've outlived brother-sister incest, torture, and casually attempted murder to become, among other things, the city's oldest crack addict, a recovered alcoholic kept in balance by lithium, a fireman with a burnt-out face, a nun in retreat from the world, and a homeless bum the family calls "Psycho." Angry, funny and tender, rather than grim, Stephens is a poet of the negative, the failed, the shameful, who can match Samuel Beckett for dour comedy and Joyce (a bit self-consciously at times) for the lyric lilt. But his subject is American in the line of Henry Roth and Ginsberg's Kaddish: immigrants driven mad by the confusion and harshness of their surroundings. At least the Cooles live to bury their old man and tell his tales. Among the blacks who inherited their inner-cityhell, Stephens reminds us, it's the old man these days who bury the young. In five long chapters of increasing power, Stephens dismantles the American dream.

Product Details

Dalkey Archive Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st ed
Product dimensions:
6.33(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.89(d)

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews