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Singing Boy: A Novel Paperback – Bargain Price, March 6, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 309 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st Picado edition (March 6, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312420625
  • ASIN: B000F6ZAMC
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,798,571 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

On a March night in a quiet Boston neighborhood, Malcolm Vaughn, who is on his way home from a Historical Society dinner, is gunned down by a stranger while his wife and son watch. So begins Dennis McFarland's deeply interesting examination of grief. Demonstrating an uncanny ability to penetrate two very different psyches, the author focuses on the dead man's widow, Sarah Vaughn, and his best friend, Deckard Jones. The latter is a Vietnam veteran and former addict who's in the midst of his own unraveling as the novel begins. This blue-collar black man may seem like an unusual friend for the white, comfortably middle-class Vaughn family, yet McFarland's writing makes the relationship perfectly plausible.

It's a well-known phenomenon that a common loss doesn't necessarily bring people together. Employing a Rashomon-like alternation of voices, McFarland explores the same events from both Deckard's and Sarah's point of view. These two devastated people have nothing but good will toward each other, and both are worried about 8-year-old Harry and perplexed by his withdrawal and regression. Somehow, though, they can't avoid giving--and taking--offense.

An intensely subjective and surreal tone illuminates the interior lives of both of these characters. Sarah guiltily takes sleeping pills and muscle relaxants that make her "too groggy to drive the car and a little apprehensive in the kitchen, among sharp knives and open flames." Deckard, meanwhile, is having trouble with "a struggle for proper nouns, a tendency to leave his apartment without the keys, the habit of arriving in a room clueless about what brought him there." He's also haunted by his memories of Vietnam, a part of the novel that takes on a life of its own and leaves the reader wanting more. Indeed, there's an immediacy and an edgy humor to this side of the story that's missing from Sarah's more pastel journey. But Singing Boy is everywhere a work of unclichéd compassion, with the sometimes surprising revelation of goodness discovered in unexpected places. --Victoria Jenkins --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

McFarland, whose first novel, The Music Room, was a major best seller, again shows his remarkable skill in detailing human emotions and sorrow. One night, Malcolm, husband of Sarah and father of eight-year-old Harry, is shot to death in front of his horrified family. McFarland is a master at getting inside a character's thoughts: the chapter in which Sarah navigates the nightmare of hospital corridors, police questioning, and the trip to the morgue is grueling in its immediacy. We soon realize that Sarah and Harry have no emotional support network. Sarah, unable to resume her work as a chemistry professor at a prestigious Boston university, turns to Malcolm's best friend, Deckard, a black Vietnam vet and recovered drug addict. But for Deckard, Malcolm's murder stirs up not only grief but also painful flashbacks of war and an abusive childhood. As Sarah and Deckard's friendship becomes strained, Harry suffers through nightmares on his own. The novel can't sustain the emotional impact of the initial chapters, but its sophisticated and subtle analysis of each character's grief and resolution is compelling. Highly recommended.
-DReba Leiding, James Madison Univ., Harrisonburg, VA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Dennis McFarland is the author of NOSTALGIA, LETTER FROM POINT CLEAR, PRINCE EDWARD, SINGING BOY, A FACE AT THE WINDOW, SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND, and THE MUSIC ROOM. His short fiction has appeared in THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR, THE NEW YORKER, PRIZE STORIES: THE O'HENRY AWARDS, BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and Stanford University. He lives in rural Vermont with his wife, writer and poet Michelle Blake.

Customer Reviews

Dennis McFarland has demonstrated this so well in this thoughtfully written book.
elizabeth robison
Mid-novel, both the plot and the prose became more mundane and the characters more one-dimensional.
Shelley Lucas
Don't miss the opportunity to read one of the best books I have read in a long time.
EJ

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By EJ on April 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Though I am an avid reader for the entertainment I rarely find a book that I absolutely cannot put down. As I read while flying I had to glance around to see how many people saw the tears well in my eyes again and again. This book is written with an amazing amount of compassion for it's characters. It is a story that will make you stop and think about your life and how important things really are. Don't miss the opportunity to read one of the best books I have read in a long time. I would give it ten stars if I could.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By B. Carrigan on September 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I'm reading this book and thinking already of the review I am going to write. That's not a good sign I wouldn't think. Here's the problem I read the inside jacket and the whole concept of the story drew me amd I wanted to get to know these characters and even care about them. Now I am almost finished(less than 20 pages) and I still have a lot of questions about Sarah, Deckard and Harry. The author gives you perspective from Deckard and Sarah, but I wonder what it would have been like to get inside little Harry's mind and hear from him. I really don't want to give the idea that this is a bad book but it left me wanting to know the real story and to dig a little deeper.
Finally, I must say I'm still mad that I read a reviewer on Amazon that decided to reveal the ending for all who read his or her review. Thumbs down to you!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on February 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In the Boston area, Malcolm and Sarah Vaughn accompanied by their second grade son Harry were driving home from dinner when the Corvair in front of them sat at the green light, not once but twice. Malcolm went to see if the driver was okay, but was shot and killed for his Good Samaritan efforts. Harry and Sarah watch their beloved father and husband die in front of their shocked eyes.

The aftermath of the random act of violence stuns Sarah and Harry. At the hospital Sarah calls Malcolm's best friend Deckard Jones, who cannot cope any better than the two survivors. Sarah finds herself increasingly alone, as she cannot hide her grief in her work as a chemical engineering professor. Harry suffers nightmares that haunt him during the day hiding it with apathy and withdrawal while crying and wetting his bed at night. Deck returns to Nam where he seen death and suicide as the norm. The near future for this trio is at best bleak, helpless, and unrelenting, as they must cope with tragedy by themselves.

As he did with THE MUSIC ROOM, Dennis McFarland provides his audience with an angst-filled tale of what emotionally and psychologically happens to the survivors. The tragedy occurs in the first chapter with the main story line centering on how each individual copes (or in many cases, not deal with) the sudden death of a loved one. Although a bit too melodramatic at times as secondary players also suffer and react in various ways to Malcolm's murder, Mr. McFarland has written a superb psychological thriller that emphasizes the feelings not the action.

Harriet Klausner
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Fercho on December 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I liked this book, however I'm usually not at a loss for what to say about a novel, and this one has me slightly stumped. The writing is excellent, and there were many times I stopped and re-read a sentence for no reason other than it was so perfect. It really is an examination of grief, and the various ways individuals cope(or do not cope with it.) As another reviewer stated I would have liked more insight into the mind of the son,
and his feelings about the disintigration of his family. I found this novel to be less of a "story" per se, and more like a vignette of a time in the lives of three people. It was satisfying but for some strange reason I can't quite put my finger on, this book did not stay with me once I finished it. Perhaps like it's subject matter the memory fades with the passage of time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By pisces on March 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
I'd wanted to read "Singing Boy" for the past three years. Trouble is, author Dennis McFarland's novel is shelved at my public library, right next to Ian McEwan's novels. So after reading the whole, more well-known, Ian McEwan library, I finally got around to McFarland's Singing Boy.

This is a novel about relationships which form during a grieving period. A widow and her son witnessed a violent crime which killed the husband/father, the rest of the novel is about how they come to terms with this.

The father's best friend was Deckard, who is black. Will white-bread Sarah and black best friend have a romantic relationship?

Romance junkies will be very disappointed.

(SPOILERS)

There is no romance in this novel. Even the Police Officer who quits the case in order to romance the widow, is rejected because Sarah is too filled with grief to get involved with anyone.

There's not much action, suspense, or plot twists either. The crime is never solved. But, that's ok because the whole theme of the book is about looking for closure that's actually available to you, not grasping at what isn't. In that sense, this novel really works as a sort of---grief manual, more than any other, even non-fiction grief books I've read. Sarah, the widow, choose not to undergo traditional mental health/ grief therapy. Sarah rejects that and even loses her temper with a psychiatrist over the telephone. Again, this novel really highlights alternate forms of grieving over death, and gives very realistic detail about what it's like for an 8-year-old son to lose his father.

I would have liked a stronger setting, especially since mother, Sarah, and son, Harry, seek solice in nature, the ocean etc... We never really find out what ocean that is...
Read more ›
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