Edisto by Padgett Powell – review

By Alfred Hickling

Powell is best known on this side of the Atlantic as the author of The Interrogative Mood, a novel constructed entirely of questions, so here's another: how come it has taken nearly 28 years for his debut novel to be published over here? Set in in the middle of the last century, Edisto is an off-beat coming-of-age fable concerning Simon, a precocious 12-year-old whose mother – an alcoholic professor known as the Duchess – has marked him out for literary genius: "It's an assignment. I'm supposed to write. I'm supposed to get good at it." The meandering narrative mostly depicts Simon shooting the breeze with his older friend Taurus and fretting about puberty ("Don't worry about it," Taurus assures him. "It's too big. Like nuclear war.") Line-for-line it's rarely less than laconically funny, and hardly a paragraph goes by without a poetic perception worthy of a latter-day Huck Finn. Yet it's also subject to a fly-blown sluggishness: "Nothing happens. At a time like this you expect some news, an event, maybe just some excitement. But it doesn't come."

Contributor

Alfred Hickling

The GuardianTramp

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