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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Short Rhetoric for Leaving
the Family

Peter Dimock

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To purchase A Short Rhetoric for Leaving the Family

Title: A Short Rhetoric for Leaving the Family
Author: Peter Dimock
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998
Length: 113 pages
Availability: A Short Rhetoric for Leaving the Family - US
A Short Rhetoric for Leaving the Family - UK
A Short Rhetoric for Leaving the Family - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : an interesting take on the Viet Nam war, well-executed

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
American Book Rev. . 1-2/1999 Kenneth Lindblom
The Nation A 11/1/1999 John Leonard
The Spectator . 28/8/2004 Clemency Burton-Hill
TLS . 13/8/2004 Simon Baker

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) remarkable novel has been almost secretly published" - John Leonard, The Nation

  • "(T)his is a notable début: lean, strange, and -- in its investigation of family corruption writ large in the politics of the country -- absolutely germane to the current climate." - Clemency Burton-Hill, The Spectator

  • "We don't know how the boys will react to the letter, but it will be a shame if they -- or we -- ignore its sometimes eccentric but always powerful message warning of the foolishness of conflict." - Simon Baker, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       This small book delivers quite a punch. The unusual title is promise and warning of what is to come. Guided by Catullus and the Pentagon Papers, both of which are used extensively, Dimock has fashioned an unlikely yet powerful book on the Viet Nam era.
       Jarlath Lanham, removed from his family, previously a resident of the Conway Cooperative Care Center, writes a letter to two members of the next generation of the family, offering them a sum of money that will permit them, should they choose, to separate from the family, upon reaching their majority. This Rhetoric is the explanatory letter. It is a family worth escaping (as several members do, unwilling or unwittingly, by winding up in diverse "care centers" (fancy loony bins)). Dominated by Jarlath's father, a prime architect of the Viet Nam war, and Jarlath's brother, AG, who was also directly involved in the war, Dimock presents the story of those turbulent times under the guise of a precise rhetoric. More specifically he suggests a rhetoric for (re)imagining those times and those events.
       Five photographs serve as backgrounds for the rhetoric -- photographs that AG gave to Jarlath and that their father goes to great pains to try to recover. Dimock effectively shows how language can be used -- specifically, how it was used by the "powers that were", and, presumably, continues to be used by voices of authority. In its polished precision Dimock's elaborations hit very close to home.
       It is an eerie little novel, sparse and succinct, very stylized. Dimock manages to make his point very effectively in these few pages. There are parts which do not work completely, but the overall effect is striking.

       This is an important novel, and a significant one. It is curious that it has received so little attention, but in a time when government rhetoric is again so removed from truth (and a President parses grammar to defend himself against impeachment) perhaps not surprising.

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A Short Rhetoric for Leaving the Family: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction

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About the Author:

       American author Peter Dimock was a Senior Editor at Random House and now works for the Columbia University Press.

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© 1999-2010 the complete review

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