Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall

by Ken Sparling,
192 pages,
ISBN: 0679426582

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First Novels - This Month, a Brood of Ten
by Eva Tihanyi

Another familial "epic of banalities" is Ken Sparling's Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall (Knopf, 194 pages, $28.95 cloth), but this novel is more deserving of the phrase. The narrator, a library administrator named Ken Sparling, lives with his wife Tutti and their two-year-old son Sammy in an endless routine of daily trivia. Sparling's repetitive, monotonous writing style mimics his vision: the futility of contemporary urban existence. At times it is even reminiscent of Gertrude Stein: "There was so much love. I think it forced us to eat that way. I think it forced us to eat like there was no way to get at all the love that was there. We couldn't stand up. All that we could do was keep sitting there, eating." There's no dramatic tension, no plot to speak of. By focusing so relentlessly on inconsequential details (for example, crumpled napkins and ketchup packets on a restaurant table), Sparling attempts to illuminate them in some way, infuse them with importance. Either that, or he wants to show us what dull, inconsequential lives we lead.

The interesting underlying themes of his parents' failed marriage and his own relationship with his father get lost in the mire of banality. Unfortunately, page after page of uninspired prose add up to an unimpressive novel. .


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