August 25th, 2009


A review in The New Yorker (May 19, 2003) described JUDGE by Dwight Allen (Algonquin, 2003) this way: “Slight, dishevelled, almost totally without guile, eighty-two-year-old Judge William Dupree, of Louisville, departs this world leaving behind only the shimmer of his beneficence. His death leaves his family–his hypochondriac wife and his peripatetic sons–at a loss. Without the love that he steadily, but unobtrusively, supplied, his sons go haywire: the elder leaves his amiable wife for an aspiring ventriloquist, and the younger, a struggling writer, returns home, where he falls into the arms of his father’s law clerk. Allen’s preoccupation with ardor in all its forms brings Walker Percy to mind, and his lovely, elegiac book shows how easily even the most well-made life can unravel.”

Publishers Weekly (April 7, 2003) said of the novel, “Allen’s characters are likably flawed and drawn with a delicate, subtle hand. . . Add to this his assured prose (a character’s nightgown is ‘the color of the moon, as colored by a child bearing down hard with a silver Crayola’), and the book is a quietly moving accomplishment.”

In a Washington Post review (April 13, 2003), Martha Bayne wrote, “Allen’s quiet, genteel storytelling casts a surprising spell. An errant fabulist image haunts the pages, and though its initial appearances are a bit at odds with the precise realism of Allen’s prose, ultimately it works as a wry manifestation of how memories can linger after death to taunt those left behind.”


Crawford had always found it unsettling to see his father without glasses. He looked naked and helpless, like a baby bunny that had wandered out of its nest. Crawford remembered one day in the early sixties, when he was twelve or so, watching his unspectacled father grope his way toward the swimming pool at the country club they belonged to, watching him step warily across the concrete apron, his eyes cast down, his mouth grimly set, the good humor with which he usually saw the world having vanished from his face because what lay before him was a blur of light and noise, a hundred voices, the acrid smell of chlorine, the faintly sexual smell of boxwood bushes whose tiny leaves littered the pool, the clotted summer air. His long swim trunks were cinched higher above his waist than was necessary or stylish, his body was as white as the moon except where black hair sprouted. Crawford had watched from the shallow end–Morgan was in the deep end, doing can openers off the high dive–and had wondered for a moment if he should go take his father’s elbow and guide him down the steps into the water. And yet the sight of him looking so pitiful, like the kid who gets picked on in school, had annoyed Crawford. How could this man be the person who’d been elected in a landslide to a county judgeship, an office he would hold for another ten years, until Richard Nixon appointed him to a higher court? How could this pale person, this phantasm, be Crawford’s father, the man who helped him with his algebra, who knew all the kings and queens of England and France from the Norman Conquest forward, who arbitrated disputes between Crawford and Morgan and between everybody and Mrs. Dupree (though, generally, it should be said, in Crawford’s mother’s favor)? How, Crawford had wondered, could his father be so different from him? When Judge Dupree finally entered the pool and began to do his version of the crawl, lifting his face most of the way out of the water when he took a breath, like a disoriented swimmer searching for shore, Crawford moved out of his path and watched him go by. Morgan, who had apparently spotted his father from the diving platform, swam over and greeted him. They horsed around. Crawford heard his father say, “Where’s your brother?”

–from the second chapter of JUDGE by Dwight Allen

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