The Brooklyn Book of the Dead

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Michael Stephens is the author of more than a dozen books, including SEASONS AT COOLE (1972), a novel that first introduced Leland Coole and his clan of nine-plus children. Twenty-two years later, the number of kids has increased to sixteen, and they have all come back, to the Brooklyn of their misspent youths, for the wake of their father: Inspector Leland Coole, also known by the aliases Crazy Jack, Jackie Ducks, Little Lee. He is memorialized best, perhaps, by the novel’s antisentimental opening sentence: “He’s dead, The old man’s dead. Poor old bastard.”

No other book in recent years has gathered together such an insane bunch of characters as THE BROOKLYN BOOK OF THE DEAD. Leland Coole’s offspring are a colorful crew, including Emmett, the crack-addict cab driver; Terry, the scourge of the brood, a homeless derelict; Paddy, a painter who grows and deals marijuana; Oona, a devotee of Hare Krishna and frequent flyers; not to mention Elizabeth Ann, a foul-mouthed nun who “was the least nunly of all.” Stephens reunites the Cooles for one final swan song of a farewell at a Brooklyn funeral parlor that is, on this day, transformed into a surrogate bar. Here, they drink Irish whiskey, smoke dope, and swap disparaging tales about their father the drunk, their father the brawler, their father the good-for-nothing grouch. Slowly, as the narrative focus shifts from brother to brother, sister to sister, a collective picture begins to emerge, a portrait of a father crippled by bitterness, of a family crushed by a father’s inability to love.