Eddie's Bastard BOOK review

Book Reviews
Eddie's Bastard BOOK review
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Jan 1, 2001, 02:53

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EDDIE'S BASTARD by William Kowalski; Harper Collins, 1999

Eddie's Bastard is the most engrossing fiction I've experienced in years. It's premise is humble yet quirky: autobiography by a young man who starts life as a foundling…one who mysteriously appears on his paternal grandfather's front-steps with the note “Eddie's bastard.”  Intuitively recognizing the baby as authentic kin by some inscrutable means, gramps takes him in and raises him to manhood. His grandfather, Tom, names him “Billy” after his own grandfather William Mann, the town of Mannville's namesake hero. The novel proceeds to methodically and artfully reveal the life of this youngster as an unending sequence of ineffable mysteries encountered and ever so gradually explained.

Billy and grandpa inhabit the ruins of the family estate, a fortune having been lost by the latter in a harebrained scheme to establish ostrich ranching in upstate New York. Tom has been sunk deep in extreme yet good-natured alcohol abuse for decades in the wake of this financial calamity. A recluse, he home-schools the boy in innumerable family legends, sundry survival skills and practical academia, establishing him as a precocious eccentric figure at a tender age. The two share what seem preternatural sensitivities and abilities—though these could be just as well explained as powerful imagination and acute perceptiveness.

One day, Billy collides with Tom while playing and fractures his grandfather's hip, requiring an extended hospital stay and thrusting both into the mainstream of Mannville society. Thenceforward the novel uncovers and unravels one conundrum after another regarding the Mann family history, long past and present, as well as that of the town. Basically it conducts a meditation on the relationship of the individual to society as well as to family legacy, both proceeding and preceding one's own lifespan. The stance becomes extremely spiritual without being denominational, and also politically sensitive. However the issues being examined are seen in light of how they impact the individual via one-on-one encounters. The central characters are subtly striving to attain a transcendental state, but with this pursuit being solidly rooted in everyday human activities and concerns, a delicate balancing act between the two is the ideal depicted here.

Emotions are very effectively and powerfully evoked and this is one of the few times I've been moved to tears by reading. I can't recommend this highly enough.

-Howard W.

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