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The End of Vandalism


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In the 296 square miles of Grouse County, Iowa, ``family agriculture seemed to be over and had not been replaced by any other compelling idea.'' Even so, Drury's fictional world teems with idiosyncratic life. We witness much of it through the eyes of Sheriff Dan Norman, who arrests Tiny Darling for vandalizing an antivandalism dance, marries the culprit's ex-wife, comforts a local stripper, and listens atop his trailer to a former actress witness for Christ. Drury's narrative style is as flat as the prairie land, but amidst apparent blandness we discover an abundance of droll characters and quirky events. Drury's first novel (much of which appeared earlier in The New Yorker ) affectionately chronicles the mundane but elevates it to a richly comic plane. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/93.-- Albert E. Wilhelm, Tennessee Technological Univ., Cookeville

The late Seymour Lawrence was celebrated for his discerning eye: Drury will figure among his literary legacies. Readers who encountered the 11 chapters of his first novel in the New Yorker can testify to the staying power of Drury's characters, generally lonely, well-meaning Midwesterners who live in the richly realized fictional terrain of Grouse County. In these small farming communities, where families have been intertwined for generations and no event can escape the shadow of the past and the petty gossip of the present, everyone knows everyone else, perhaps better than they should. A lovers' triangle is inevitable when petty thief Tiny Darling can't reconcile himself to his divorce from Louise; she, meanwhile, has drifted into an uneasy marriage with sheriff Dan Norman; and good-hearted, conscientious Dan now adds insomnia to the problems that plague him. Tiny is a comic and poignant antihero. Pugnacious and impulsive, but also confused and vulnerable, he is his own worst enemy, especially when he drinks. Tiny steals instinctively, because it seems logical to him: ``Stealing is like being a chef . . . You can find work anywhere.'' Louise is muddled and unfocused until she becomes pregnant; Dan's quiet compassion can get in the way of his job. Drury has a bemused fondness for his characters' foibles and self-destructive impulses. In distinctive and dryly humorous dialogue, he captures the oblique, random chitchat of basically inarticulate people, who converse in a blend of ungrammatical vernacular and old-fashioned formality. His view of rural life is unsentimental: ``Family agriculture seemed to be over and had not been replaced by any other compelling idea.'' And his sense of place and his eye for the particular in the mundane are extraordinary. This is a quiet book that grows in emotional resonance. (Apr.)

"Brilliant, wonderfully funny ... It's hard to think of any novel--let alone a first novel--in which you can hear the people so well. This is indeed deadpan humor, and Tom Drury is its master."

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