24 December 2007

Peter Dimock, A Short Rhetoric for Leaving the Family, 1998

A man writes a long letter to two boys, both relatives, outlining to them the rules of effective rhetorical speech. He has a purpose: to expose his father’s shame as an architect of America’s role in the Vietnam War, and to arm them in similarly turning against the American policy of ‘continual reprisal’ in its foreign affairs – hence A Short Rhetoric will be better understood by those who already see American foreign policy as being one of the great evils of today’s world. The language is deliberately obtuse and idiosyncratic, and I would defy anyone other than the most hardened practitioners of political spin to tease out its intricacies – it’s only the very useful cover blurb that can help put this entirely singular novel into understandable context for the rest of us. It gets under your skin eventually and it will remain there, but A Short Rhetoric is a real slow burner that demands both patience and thought, its real purpose being to challenge and educate rather than entertain. A short, sharp shock, and an unforgettable experience.   PY

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