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.