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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Purloining Tiny

John Franklin Bardin

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To purchase Purloining Tiny

Title: Purloining Tiny
Author: John Franklin Bardin
Genre: Novel
Written: 1978
Length: 185 pages
Availability: Purloining Tiny - US
Purloining Tiny - UK
Purloining Tiny - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : way overheated and far-fetched, but entertainingly spun out

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Purloining Tiny centers around the beautiful twenty-five-year-old 'Tiny' -- whose real name is Sheila (or actually Patricia) and who, at five foot ten is hardly that diminutive. Tiny has daddy issues: she has long been the assistant to her stepfather Joel in his gruesome illusionist-act, the only close male relationship she has -- other than the one with her psychiatrist. Her mother died when she was fourteen, and Tiny took her place in Joel's act -- an act that is very successful and has kept up with the times, but whose edginess presumably wasn't conducive to growing up normal. As Tiny explains about what Joel and she do:

You can't do straight magic -- illusions like sawing a woman in half or taking a rabbit out of a hat or making an elephant disappear -- you can' do that any more in this time of glitter rock and the other sensations. It's got to be gruesome. Sure, they still like the magic, they're still thrilled by knowing it can't happen but it does happen, that I can't possibly withstand enclosure in the Iron Maiden and yet come out of it bloody but alive -- and be there next week at the same old stand. But without the illusion of blood and guts, they stay home in droves.
       Tiny had a tough childhood. Her real father deserted her and her mother -- at least that's what her mother told her -- and she wound up in hospital, with polio, from which she eventually recovered, though it was a painful process. Her mother met the touring magician Joel and he took them under his wing, paying Tiny's hospital bills and taking her mother on as his assistant. Continuing in her mother's place in the act after her death, Tiny still lives with her stepfather -- now very comfortably, in a New York City penthouse -- but she's never managed to have a relationship with a man.
       The novel opens with her at a session with her psychiatrist, maintaining that she can't leave the act -- and concerned about some unnatural presence she feels. At a bar she goes to afterwards she finds the sympathetic bartender, Nick, as well as an unfamiliar man named Harry, who takes an interest in her and invites her for dinner. She doesn't accept, but he left the invitation open, to meet him at the same bar the next evening .....
       Harry is very interested in Tiny. Harry is convinced she is his long-lost daughter -- and the dates and circumstances would seem to fit. And Harry is also convinced that she is his fallen daughter, in the clutches of nothing less than the Devil himself -- which, admittedly, Joel can pass for in his stage-act. Harry wants to save her -- in his own peculiar way. So soon Tiny has a second daddy issue, from a second would-be daddy -- one who wants to impose his own very rigid and strict ideas of the way he thinks things should be.
       Tiny shows a flash of independence in refusing to go for a show out of town the next week -- even if it is only because she doesn't want to miss a session with her shrink. But she's also intrigued by Harry's show of attention -- and the bartender as well. She seems to be readying herself to maybe explore a world beyond the narrow, constrained one she knows so well -- though she still has a ways to go to truly free herself, having her doubts about actually leaving the act: as she reässures her stepfather:
     "Daddy, I'm not going to leave the act. It's my identity."
       Of course, it might not be up to her: Harry, now that he has located her, zeroes in on her, making preparations -- subletting an apartment in the same building where Joel and Tiny live, and having it fixed up to his specifications (which include everything in it being virginal white) -- and setting his own plan into motion. Harry has done well for himself in some criminal enterprises over the years; the connections he's made also prove advantageous. And, as he will repeatedly demonstrate, his conscience isn't easily troubled: anything, or one, in his way is efficiently and ruthlessly dealt with.
       Harry manages to kidnap Tiny, and stash her in the newly fixed-up apartment, but when she wakes up he isn't there and she manages to make good an escape -- and convinces herself that it was Joel who did this, as part of some elaborate preparation for his next big illusion. Joel can't convince her otherwise, and, thinking he was in on it, she doesn't feel the need to spell out exactly what happened to her and where she found herself. She tells a bit more to Nick, the bartender, when she flees to him, but also not enough -- and when she heads back to confront Joel again walks right into Harry's hands and trap again. And this time she gets stuck there.
       Soon enough, Harry's delusions and his expectations -- that she behave like the good daughter he wants her to be -- become clear enough to her. The police, meanwhile, can't make heads or tails of the case -- taking Nick and Joel into custody, half protective, half because they're the most likely candidates responsible for her kidnapping. And all the while readers know that she is stuck in an apartment just a few floors under her actual home.
       It makes for an intriguing if rather half-baked psychological thriller -- very heavy on the psychological, from damaged Tiny and all her issues (especially with men), to generally well-meaning but of course less than ideal father-figure, mentor, and flat-mate Joel ("Illusion is all I know how to do", Tiny quotes him saying), who eventually admits that he's thought about a potentially very different kind of relationship with the girl, too. Above all, there's deeply damaged Harry. It's left open whether or not he is really Tiny's father, but he certainly is convinced he is, and that he has to lead her back on the righteous path -- something that also involves physically disciplining her. Meanwhile, Tiny tries to go along with things while also maneuvering to free herself -- making for a muddle, no matter how clear she is about the situation. There's even a rape, eventually -- but it's not at all of the kind one would expect. And for someone who has never managed to have any sort of relationship with a man, beyond the father-daughter/assistant-like one with Joel, Tiny doesn't have much trouble becoming sexually active, racking up quite a few sexual partners in short order.
       Bardin's dialogue-heavy narrative caroms all over the place, but it's lively and sharp, and though a lot here is over the top the sheer bizarreness mostly works. The writing is solid too, even if it strains a bit under the burden of all the psychological tensions and, especially, the characters' cracks and delusions. He plays the illusion-card -- and the nature of Joel's act, full of devices of torture -- a bit hard, but mostly it still works -- occasionally particularly nicely, as when Nick wonders:
How the hell, he wondered, had he managed to tangle with so sun-struck, so fey a one ? He guessed he had the knack. But she was really very sweet. Whatever "really" meant.
       The ending is rather abrupt and a bit disappointing, an easy out -- but then Tiny's situation would have been hard to resolve otherwise. Bardin does secondary characters well, and there are a number of interesting ones here, including the psychiatrist, the police officers in charge, and the criminal mastermind Harry works for, but Bardin also forges and forces rather more connections among them than are realistic -- but then not much in Purloining Tiny is particularly realistic. It's all a bit much, and veers off in a variety of near-dead-ends -- but, except the unpleasantly too-pervasive soft-sadistic streak throughout, Bardin sort of juggles it all somehow, making for a bizarre but quite entertaining little work.
       Purloining Tiny suffers by comparison to Bardin's better-known trio of much earlier work, to which it is inevitably compared and certainly falls short of, but while it isn't entirely satisfyingly whole -- with both its abrupt end and what amount to quite a few dangling threads along the way -- it's not half bad.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 December 2019

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Reviews: John Franklin Bardin: Other books by John Franklin Bardin under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author John Franklin Bardin lived 1916 to 1981.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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