Miss Lamp

by Chris Ewart
176 pages,
ISBN: 1552451666

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Review of Miss Lamp
by Nancy Wigston

Miss Lamp by Chris Ewart, Coach House Book, 176 pages., $19.95, paper, ISBN: 1552451666). "Miss Lamp shines," begins this arch portrait of a lawyer, come back to her hometown, to defend an incompetent, comic-book evil dentist, who steals his patients' teeth. Ewart works best in close-up, concentrating not on court room drama¨which is fairly quickly disposed of¨but on Miss Lamp's memories and the presence of bit players in her orbit. These include Room Service Boy, who delivers Campbell's soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, with pickles on the side, to the lawyer's hotel room, and Banana Tray Hair, the supermarket cashier on whom Room Service Boy has a crush, and with whom he eventually enjoys a drunken evening of bowling. The cashier, Lucy, like Miss Lamp's mother, Abby, is at least granted a real name, a rarity in Ewart's world, where most of the time, style passes for substance.
With endlessly coy chapter titles¨"Soup is Good Food", "Lost and Flowered", "Banana Splints"¨this reads like a children's book written from the point of view of a rather decadent child. There are intermittent scenes of ugliness and cruelty¨the protracted humiliation of someone called Paper Boy, the dentist's antics, and the nasty Grandma from Young Young Miss Lamp's childhood. As in a fairytale, a disturbing thread of cruelty connects the dots. Ewart may aim to dazzle, disturb, and amuse. If so, like the tomato soup that figures so frequently in the narrative, and like his eponymous character, his work is an acquired taste.

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