Tuesday, September 8, 2009

REVIEW: Bowl of Cherries, by Millard Kaufman

Bowl of Cherries, by Millard Kaufman. Published 2007 by McSweeney's. Literary Fiction.

Bowl of Cherries is the first novel by screenwriter and Mr. Magoo co-creator Millard Kaufman, who passed away this year at the age of 92. It's the story of one Judd Breslau, a teenage prodigy who finds himself working for an eccentric scholar. Soon Judd falls hopelessly in love with the scholar's mercurial daughter, Valerie, and follows her to the ends of the earth. Almost literally.

When the story opens, Judd is in prison in a backwater of Iraq, awaiting his execution at the hands of his rival for Valerie's affections. From there Judd tells us his backstory interspersed with the slow forward motion of his hopeless-seeming predicament. The narrative has a picaresque quality as we follow his adventures from Connecticut to New York to Colorado and Iraq, and Kaufman writes in an elevated, literary style not at all like the voice of a fifteen-year-old. Whether you find this charming or annoying will determine how you feel about the book as a whole. On moving to Colorado and finding his mother, he notes
The house sat on the crown of a snowy hill, gleaming in the twilight. A big-shouldered stone fireplace dominated the living room, and next to it stood my mother. She wore the white robes of a vestal, cinctured with the silver and turquoise of the Navajo. From her neck depended a silver chain, and her earrings were like quoits. I had never seen her so gussied up, but the style was matchlessly Mother's.
Here you can see the penchant towards preciousness and hoity-toity vocabulary which dominates the entire book. Those of you bloggers who participate in Wondrous Words Wednesday will feast. It didn't bother me that the style doesn't really sound like that of a teenager; what bothered me was that the style muddied the action and slowed the pace, so rather than skipping along, I felt like I was crawling through molasses to find out what would happen next.

The best thing about Bowl of Cherries for me was the comic cast of characters. Phillips Chatterton, the bathrobe-clad scholar, back-stabbing Abdul and inconstant Valerie made the book memorable and kept me reading. Even the minor characters are brought to life with color and texture. It's a coming of age story for readers of idiosyncratic literary fiction with an emphasis on stylized writing and character over plot. It's not destined to be a favorite, but I'm glad I picked it up.

Rating: BORROW

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


Unknown said...


I moved it from my wishlist to my library hold list this spring.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

The start of your second paragraph made me laugh out loud! I like quirky stuff - it sounds like it would be fun for me!

Zibilee said...

I am not sure if I would like this book. The language comes off as sort of stuffy, but the characters sound interesting. I might go over to Amazon to see if I can get a peek inside, that way I might have a better idea on if this would be a book for me or not. Great review!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

How did you come across this one, marie? Has it been on your list (or shelf) for a while?

Marie Cloutier said...

Dawn, I picked it up kind of randomly in a bookstore (Borders)one night when I was on a trip to Virginia. It just looked cool. I think I was looking for something else in the K section and just happened on it. I read it a month or so later & then waited kind of a long time to review it. :-)

Tasha said...

Millard - that's a great name.

bermudaonion said...

How interesting that the creator of Mr. Magoo wrote a book.

Jeanne said...

I have to agree with King Rat; I'm putting this on my library list. I might love it and then want to own it, but it looks like one that could go either way.