Life Drawing

Grumley died of AIDS in 1988, leaving behind Life Drawing, a wistful, if not thoroughly conceived coming-of-age novel. The story, which follows a wide-eyed young man named Mickey as he grows up in and leaves Lillienthal, Iowa, has the sepia-toned cast of a memoir. There’s an old-fashioned grace to Grumley’s prose even when he’s describing something as ordinary as Mickey’s days as a golf caddy: ”The summer of West Side Story we sang ‘Tonight’ and ‘Maria’ at the top of our lungs along the club’s fairways at dusk, startling the groundskeepers and the starlings.” During high school, Mickey rides down the Mississippi on a barge and falls for a black card shark named James. It’s not the most original plot in the world, but Grumley’s description of their subsequent life in New Orleans is funny, evocative, and romantic. Unfortunately, things go awry when Mickey strikes out for L.A. and loses his innocence in a banal interlude about Hollywood. In the end, Grumley seems to have rushed Mickey’s initiation: His story has too many rites and not enough passage. B

Life Drawing
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