Careful! – a book review
Richard Madelin is a British musician and short-story writer. His novel, Careful! was published in America by Ig Publishing in 2004. It received good reviews but they were not converted into mammoth sales. Most published writers will recognise the pattern and dig out that wry smile.
Like Benjy Compson, the severely retarded narrator in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Lenny, Madelin’s character in Careful! speaks to us through a stream-of-consciousness interior monologue. The worlds of both characters are confined to bodily sensation, vague feelings, and an ongoing interpretation of the events in and around their families.
Lenny, named after Lenny Bruce, is mentally retarded after a childhood accident. He works for a pittance in the barn of a local farmer and, somehow, has managed to pass his driving test. He is excited by his relationships outside the influence of his mother. He is an oaf, but amiable, and he garners our empathy. His mother, Alice, is an enigmatic woman, cruel yet concerned for her son, someone who is driven by inner demons neither she nor we quite understand.
Through the interwoven narratives of mother and son we gather that Lenny, at the behest of and rigidly following the instructions of Alice, is in the process of kidnapping a local policeman, who turns out to be his brother and the eldest son of Alice.
Not without incident and accident the plan succeeds and we move on to the setting of the attic room in the big house where the cop, Jack, named after Jack Keruac, is bound and gagged and interrogated by his mother.
I’m not going to give away the denouement of the story, though you will have gathered by its comparison with the Faulker novel that it narrates the course of a tragedy.
And again, like The Sound and the Fury, the tragedy which lies at the heart of Careful! is the tragedy of the decay and the unravelling of a family.
Richard Madelin has the novelists sense of how to leak a story to its reader. The sense of shock and pity which this novel brings is released slowly but cumulatively and with the assurance of someone who understands language and the magic and importance of voice.