Picks and Pans Review: Stanley Elkin's the Magic Kingdom
When Eddy Bale's 12-year-old son dies from a long, much-publicized illness, Bale finds he resents the years the boy spent undergoing treatment that only prolonged a life of torment. He decides to devote his life to indulging children who are terminally ill. From that premise Elkin, author of such novels as Boswell and The Dick Gibson Show, develops a touching, often chilling, often hilarious novel. In one scene he enlists the support of Queen Elizabeth to raise funds so he can put together a medical team and a nanny to take a group of terminally ill children to Disney World in Florida. "Where we went wrong," Bale tells the Queen about his son's death, "we never rewarded him for his death. He should have lived like a crown prince, Queen.... We should have hijacked the sweet shoppe and turned him loose at the fair.... We should have burned him out on his life, Dynast. We should have bored him to death." The characters are striking. Among the nurses is a gay male who lives with a man who works for Madame Tussaud's wax museum. The nanny once served the royal family. One of the seven kids Bale rounds up for the trip—some are teenagers—is bitter because he wanted to go to Monte Carlo and break the bank. During the vacation in Florida the children's most satisfying moment, perhaps, is seeing a group of disfigured tourists gathered to watch a parade. No one plans for love to develop among the kids, yet at the end it is love that brings on both a tragedy and a surprising reaffirmation of life—even life lived under a constant threat of doom. Elkin's prose is dense, sometimes difficult, with page-long sentences. But he is dealing with matters of life and death in an outrageous yet profound way. (Dutton, $16.95)
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