October 15, 1995

“Baby Cat Face” by Barry Gifford

Reviewed by Mark Lindquist
New York Times Book Review

Barry Gifford has been chronicling the decline of Western civilization for 25 years: as America goes, so goes Mr. Gifford. Not surprisingly, his books have become increasingly twisted and senseless, their plots fractured by random acts of madness, anxiety and desperation.

Still, no matter how far into weirdness Mr. Gifford wanders, his characters often remain less bizarre than those we see in the tabloids. His latest novel, BABY CAT-FACE (Harcourt Brace, $20), opens with a conversation about a woman who bludgeons her husband, then chops him up and cooks him. Many short chapters later, it closes with talk about an elderly woman decapitating her daughter. In between, characters lose limbs and lives and say things like “You don’t cry over anything you have to give up, because you eventually must give up everything.”

Much of the narrative makes little sense, a trait for which Mr. Gifford is commonly criticized. Sailor and Lula, the lead characters from his best-known novel, “Wild at Heart,” randomly appear: “To be 18 years old zooming along in a terrific car with an almost perfect girlfriend who can’t hardly get enough of you on a breezy spring afternoon in the South was just about it, thought Sailor Ripley. . . . And he was glad as hell he had the good sense to realize it.”

Indeed. Mr. Gifford’s characters face the ridiculousness of life with existential gusto — and in this, at least, there is perfect sense.


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