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Red the Fiend.

"Fiend behind the fiend behind the fiend behind the / Fiend" (George Barker, "Sacred Elegy V"). The first time we met Red Mulvaney, in Sorrentino's Steelwork, it was 1951 and he was twenty-three, the full-grown fiend. He "came into Lento's, looking for more Reds, or pinkos at least, to beat up.... Semper Fidelis, ta-taa!... They stood at the bar and ordered boilermakers." In the foulest language, he and Artie Shaerbach talk about what they've done to some other citizens in Henry's. A Marine second lieutenant in one of the booths leaves his wife and asks Red and Artie to watch their language. "Red stuck out his hand. Smiled. Ah, those greenish teeth! That corned beef complexion. The dazed blue eyes saw the gold bars. Shake, Lieutenant.... The Lieutenant stuck out his hand and Red grasped it, then swung with his left and knocked out three of the officer's teeth. Artie did a little dance as Red swung again on the staggering body jerking at the end of his arm."

This is the same Red whose annus mirabilis, 1940, is the subject of Red the Fiend. Red is twelve, living with Grandma, Grandpa, and Mother. His drunken father, divorced from Mother, lives nearby. Grandma also appears in Steelwork, as early as 1937 when Red is nine and when she is clearly established as the main source of sexual, verbal, and physical abuse for Red's developing fiendish nature: "She sat in the broken Morris chair, her leg over one arm so that Red could see up her pale-blue-veined leg to the twisted reddish hairs of her crotch." Her daily physical and verbal abuse contribute to Red's growing twisted nature. He wets and shits his pants regularly. He ends in 6A-4 with the hopeless dummies. But at the end of 1940, having rebelled against Grandma openly, he takes on the bully, Big Mickey: "Red smacks Big Mickey across the head with a slat from an orange crate. As he sees blood start from his victim's mouth, a quick splotch of the most startling crimson, he realizes that to hurt things is to stop being afraid. How is it that this has never before come so clear to him?" Sorrentino, in Red the Fiend, has given us a crucial year of development and change in Red, from suffering masochist to brainless sadist. The reader knows a lot more about Red and his Grandma than he does about other characters in Steelwork, but fans of Sorrentino will want to know about the years between 1940 and 1951. Farrell gave Studs Lonigan three volumes for his story; Red Mulvaney deserves at least a complete life: 1928-1951 for example. Red the Fiend only whets the appetite for more of what Sorrentino calls his "ordinary folks."
COPYRIGHT 1995 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Author:Byrne, Jack
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1995
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