Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Review: THE DORK OF CORK, by Chet Raymo

The Dork of Cork, by Chet Raymo. Published 1993 by Warner Books. Literary Fiction.

I'm not exactly sure anymore where I heard of The Dork of Cork, by Chet Raymo, or even where I got it (though I know it wasn't a review book); over the past year or so though it's survived several rounds of weeding and has remained tucked on a back shelf of my TBR pile. I pulled it out in March to read during Irish Month and found it to be an unforgettable gem.

The Dork of Cork tells the story of Frank Bois, a 43-year-old dwarf who has just published a memoir; Frank is a reclusive man now on the brink of literary stardom, and the narrative alternates between the present-tense story of his rise to fame and the past-tense story of his mother, Bernadette, a young Frenchwoman who washed ashore pregnant in Cork and stayed to raise her son and make a life for herself. Bernadette is a beautiful woman who attracts a series of lovers but remains mostly inwardly-turned, showing little interest in relationships beyond the physical. Frank is raised mostly by Jack Kelly, the first man to fall for her. Older and married, Jack is nonetheless besotted with the enigmatic Bernadette and he and his family, especially his daughter Emma, come to be key figures in Frank's life.

Jack and Bernadette's relationship ends quickly but Raymo's description of their affair is typical of much of the lyrical and erotic prose:
He sat on the unmade bed in Bernadette's room and listened to the stories he had heard twice or three times before because he was in love with the green eyes of the storyteller...And Bernadette, who did not own a looking-glass, admired herself in the full-length mirror of Jack Kelly's eyes.
As we learn about Frank's memoir it becomes clear that the story we're reading is almost like the story behind the story- all the little things he leaves out of the book he writes. The present-tense narration includes some tidbits about the publishing world and the life of a writer but mostly the book is about the search for, and power of, love in all its forms- to guide and shape people's lives and to heal them. Frank is a misfit- he's Irish but not Irish, and he's someone who will always look different but who comes to realize his heart needn't shrivel; just when he's ready to give up, love saves him after all. I thought the book lost some steam in the final third but overall I loved it and I hope more people can discover and enjoy this unusual and beautiful novel.

The Dork of Cork was adapted to the screen in 1995 as Frankie Starlight.

This book counts towards the Ireland Reading Challenge 2011.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

12 comments:

Carrie said...

I've never even heard of this one! You're sure finding some great reads for the Ireland Challenge. And I love the title. :)

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This is new to me, but it sounds like a great choice. Thanks Marie.

caite said...

well, I am partial to things Irish...and my family is from County Cork. I will have to see if I can get ahold of a copy.

bermudaonion said...

Frank sounds like a fabulous character! I do think the beauty of a memoir is the author can include and exclude whatever they like.

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

The title of this drew me ,the internal rhyme. Sometimes good novels are not far off from us but we are always looking for already read authors. I have found that there are several relatively unknown writers whose novel, if penned by some famous ones, would have been praised and classified as masterpieces. But because they remain unknown only few individuals read them.

Boston said...

Oh darn you Marie! Adding another book to our TRP! Thought the movie might be based on this book. Now, we're sold!

Booksnyc said...

Interesting story - this book is new to me. Thanks for highlighting it and glad to hear it turned out to be one you really liked!

Zibilee said...

I hadn't heard much about this book other than the title, but I think it would fit my tastes perfectly. I loved the section that you quoted, and if that is any indication of the writing style in the rest of the book, I know I will be pleased with it. Great review, Marie! This one goes to the top of my list.

Rayna Eliana said...

This is a new book for me, as I haven't heard of it before.

Trisha said...

Like most of the other commenters here, I had not heard of this book. Definitely sounds interesting.

Darlene said...

Well I really like all things Irish so this sounds really good to me. I really like that title!

seana said...

I had a funny experience when I read this book for a reading group some years ago. As I read, I felt sure I had read the story before, but I could not remember any of the details until I read them. It was only somewhere very far along that I realized that I had seen the above-mentioned movie,Frankie Starlight, which as it turns out is very faithful to the book!

When I was in Ireland, I had the good fortune to read Raymo's Climbing Mount Brandon, which is a collection of essays about Mt. Brandon and environs. Raymo is an excellent essayist and I plan to read more.