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R. M. Berry. Frank.

R. M. Berry. Frank. Chiasmus Press, 2006. 202pp. Paper: $12.00.

In a world of celebrity novels with perfect skin, hair, and teeth, Frank is a monster of letters. Called an "unwriting" of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, R. M. Berry's Frank is faithful to its mother's plot: a young man fired by a dream to create goes off to college to immerse himself in his field, allows unbridled enthusiasm to carry him beyond the bounds of all that is held sacred, then spends the rest of his life trying to disavow his creation, first running from it, then trying to destroy it. The unwriting of Shelley's story comes from the fact that in Berry's novel, Frank Stein, the main character and cousin of Gertrude Stein, goes to Harvard to study "American letters"; seeing deeper into the inner workings of his chosen field than his classmates, he ends up creating an experimental novel. Recognizing belatedly what a career-ending first step this can be in a world that holds the novel to be a form of glossy entertainment, he first tries to disavow his creation, then ends up pursuing it into the swamps of language, located in the Florida Everglades, exposing along the way the inherent racism, suppressed sexuality, class bias, and constructed nature of Shelley's foundational story--and many of our own. As with parody, to get the full impact of Berry's unwriting, especially its humor--and this is a very funny book--it helps to have Shelley's tale in mind. For example, when Frank tells one of his Harvard professors that he's been reading Heidegger (he of "Origins"), his professor reacts with the same disbelief Victor faces when he tells a biology professor that he'd been reading Galen: "Have you really wasted your precious youth on such nonsense?" As the novel progresses, Frank (and the reader) comes to see that language can be neither taken apart nor manipulated without consequences, that authors--i.e., all of us--bring worlds and real-world consequences into existence through words, be they the things we say to one another, the policies that take a nation to war, or the rewriting of the genetic code that will bring a new form of cultural and biological life into existence. Given the current state of the state and of literature, it's hard to imagine a novel directed more at the heart of America than is Berry's Frank, a philosophical tour de force that demonstrates what the novel still does better than any other medium.
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Author:Tomasula, Steve
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2006
Previous Article:Christine Montalbetti. Western.
Next Article:Valerie Martin. The Unfinished Novel.

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