Leon Rooke Kenneth Baker - Essay

Kenneth Baker

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The most convincing stories in Leon Rooke's uneven collection ["The Broad Back of the Angel"] are those with a first person narrator. In "Wintering in Victoria" the composure with which the abandoned husband recounts his wife's madness is itself maddening. The angry female narrator of "Dangerous Woman" fills her story with resentful descriptions of the laundromat to the deliberate exclusion of two characters who demand her attention. And because a narrator constructs himself in telling his story, the crippled teller of the title story is the most compelling. His deformity finally becomes an incident in the story, as the narrator shapes his figurative anatomy into a figurative triumph over the zany life he has been passively witnessing….

I get the feeling that Rooke is a more conventional writer than he would like to be. The humor of, say, the wife's list of things she hates about her husband in "No Whistle Slow" is irresistible. But when Rooke gets too arch, as in the "Magician" series, or too elliptical, as in "The Third Floor," his writing drags like an interminable bad joke, despite its quick rhythms. Rooke's writing is full of good details (like a detergent called "Target") that are not always put to good use.

Kenneth Baker, "Fancy Fiction: 'The Broad Back of the Angel'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 1, 1978, p. 6.