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A marvelous tour de force [about war and reconciliation] that engages as it entertains . . . very impressive.-Publishers Weekly
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James Purdy is one of the best writers in America today, an artist as well as a superb craftsman. With his command of classical American colloquial speech and his almost scientific grasp of the horrors that lurk just beneath the surface of civilized behavior, Purdy is a master of a form of fiction that demands total suspension of disbelief and participation in the ritual bloodletting of society as a whole. Garnet Montrose is a man severely disfigured in the war, a modern leper, an often drugged prophet of the disintegration of values. Unwilling to hide in a veteran's hospital, Montrose returns to his home in Virginia. Obsessed with a childhood sweetheart, now the widow Georgina Rance, he devises an elaborate system of correspondence to woo her, depending on his "applicants" to carry letters to the lady. The relationship with these applicants forms the basis of the book. Quintus Pearch is quiet and mysterious, a wraithlike character who reads to Montrose from abstract tomes and rubs his master's feet with cynical adoration. Potter Daventry is a wild young man with twisted values and a go-for-broke attitude. Daventry courts Georgina for Montrose, then for himself. He marries her and is carried away by a freak storm. The implications are biblical in proportion; Purdy utilizes every subtlety and shading of language to enhance the demented howlings of these three lost souls. Purdy's skill consists of taking the familiar and distorting it; the results are often eerie." I would talk to myself, telling myself the same story I have already told so many times, but it helped explaining things somehow when I got in this state, when I was blown up, all my veins and arteries moved from the inside where they belong to the outside so that as that army doc put it, I have been turned inside out in all respects." The terror and laughter, repulsion and excruciating pity all mirror the apocalypse of modem life in this quirky novel. Purdy handles this portentous material with consummate skill; by relentlessly maintaining the logic of the characters he has created, no matter how improbably, he forces the reader to enter a new dimension. The effect of the book is shattering. In a Shallow Grave belongs in every public library in this country. City Lights is to be commended for its publication. -- From Independent Publisher
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