on April 16, 2004
Chet Raymo's "The Dork of Cork" follows the night sky ruminations and meanderings of Frank Bois, diminutive bastard son of Bernadette Bois, an ambiguously sympathetic character whom you`ll either love to hate or hate to love. She is of a most rare beauty and a rarer-yet ethos and morality, particularly where she and her dwarf son have ended up: in manically-embattled Christian Ireland (and briefly in the dusty Bible Belt of America.)
Trapped in his absurd dwarfism and his mother's life of amoral hedonism, Frank takes us along on his life-long quest for existential value and a platonic ideal of beauty. This duality is made all the more profound, poignant, and ironic by the stark contrast between mother and son wherein each complements the other in a sort of yin-yang template of who we all are. Where one is grotesquely stumpy and grounded in his life, the other is breathtakingly aquiline and ethereal in hers. Yet for each, the essence of self belies the exterior image and hones in on the narrative's excellent opening directive: "Begin with beauty." Mr. Raymo, for his part, does, then maintains its presence to the tale's satisfying conclusion.
Narrative gems like this, "discovered" after a decade's wait on the shelves, again remind me: Good literature waits for us as long as necessary.
on May 12, 1999
Every now and then a book gives me a glimpse into the meaning of life. Marquez did it for me in Love in the Time of Cholera, Proulx did it in The Shipping News, Guterson did it in Snow Falling on Cedars. When asked to describe what I mean, I can only say that these are books about "Everything." With his lyrical writing and beautiful characters, Raymo has given me another glimpse into The Everything. Ironically, there aren't enough stars to convey my feeling for this book.
on March 20, 2002
Well, just shy of four feet, really.
The central character of this novel, Frank Bois, is a dwarf, 43 inches tall. The novel skips back and forth between Frank's childhood with his less than virtuous mother, Bernadette, and his 43rd year, where he is about to become a published author, having written a brilliant study of the night skies.
Frank, from earliest days, is made aware that he is different wherever he goes. Born with achondroplasia, he knows he will never reach full height of an average man. His mother, while never really shielding her 'different' son from the world and all it's avaialble cruelty when you are not 'average or better,' also never treats him as different, but in doing so never fully prepares him for the cruelties that are inflicted upon him as he struggles to fit into society, and make friends. She merely accepts her son for what he is...a trait that others cannot seem to employ in their treatment of him.
Bernadette flits from one man to another, never committing to any one of them, and leaving a trail of broken hearts behind her as she parts from the world, bearing a terrible secret with her in conjuction with another pregnancy.
Frank, from this point forward, wallows in despair that this is a world created for beauty and the beautiful, and the different and ugly will never find a place in it, and never find love, for who can look at something ugly and take it into their heart?
While his lamentations are poetic, his despair heart-wrenching, and while the tale of Frank Bois touches that part of all of us that ever felt 'different' and unaccepted for that difference, the conclusion of the novel, grand and romantic as it is, left me cold, feeling a sort of 'When Harry Met Sally' let down, where the conclusion proves the entire point of the story wrong.
This is a wonderful, unique novel, and well worth the time to read it. But as I was left a little flat by the end, I can only rate it with four stars, for its ability to make an introspective person realize that different is not always bad, for its ability to point out that everyone has something to contribute to life, and for its ability to make you look at yourself, and realize aren't we all different, in some way, and isn't that one of the great joys of finding friends and lovers?
The Dork of Cork will hopefully touch anyone who reads it, and although I cannot give it the highest of praise, it touched me as well.
on April 13, 1998
I stumbled across The Dork of Cork purely by chance. I was at my local library, researching dwarfism, and this novel popped up amidst the nonfiction titles in the list. What the hey, I took a look, scanned the description on the back cover. Ireland. Hmmm. That resonated with my love of things Celtic.
I opened and started skimming the first chapter. That was it. I borrowed it, read it thoroughly, argued with it (and Frank!) all the while, and got a few long journal entries and a decent poem written as a result of my labors. And, of course, I went out and bought a copy of my own.
I guess there are some people whose idea of a good time is to just read a book, not to be philosophically engaged by one and analyze the blessed thing to death. But if you are, like myself, one of the latter, do yourself a favor and read The Dork of Cork. It's beautifully written, to boot.
on June 3, 2000
I can't say enough about this terrific but little known book. When you read a brief summary of the plot, it almost sounds like a spoof -- come on! An irish dwarf astronomer? But, Raymo is really a great writer and produces an absorbing and magical book that is about everything! It's philosphical, down to earth, magical, all while recounting a fascinating tale. Really it's quite hard to describe Raymo's achievement here, but it is an achievement. Take all the reviewer's word for it and read it yourself. I happen to love astronomy, so I hold it dear to my heart in my list of favorites.
on September 18, 2000
Raymo's book is powerful, transporting, humorous and sad all at once. After reading this work, I understand the difference between language and prose.
The novel is historical, scientific, human and mythic, budled into a page turning compact work.
on March 28, 1997
Ok, ok, I'll admit that I bought this book for the title. What a great joke gift for Christmas. I was in a book store whose only name I could see was "Going out of business, any book for a dollar!". I was on the way to the register with my sixteen bargain buys, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw the word "Dork" in this book's title. Now, my usual reading preference drifts toward John Clancy, John Grisham and Larry Bond type stuff (the ABC, NBC and CBS of bookdom), but what the hell. It's only a buck, so on impulse I added this funny little book to my hoard of reading pleasure. I guess I'd have to classify this Irish soap opera as PBS (Masterpiece Theater) mixed with a little Disney Channel (Beauty and the Beast)
I didn't intend to read it right away, but the funny title "stuck" in the brain, so during a week of lunch time and evening sessions, I followed the story of the Frank Bois, a dwarf noctivagantic stargazing author of a semi-autobiography about his life and upbringing. What's that you say? noctivagant? You don't recognize this word? Well, I didn't either. Fortunately, Raymo does give us the meaning in the following text, but isn't so generous with words like balustrade and atavistic. So keep a dictionary handy, or just let'em slide by (my method) and look them up later. We actually get to read a book within a book as we follow young Frankie's life described in adult Frank's book "Nightstalk". This book isn't just a story about debunking the clichés "Beauty is only skin deep" and "Size isn't everything" as applied to achondroplasia (dwarfism). There is much more. In fact, the dwarf is one of the few characters in this book that isn't wierd. Yes, we get a glimpse about the prejudice a dwarf encounters in life but the book actually centers on his ditzy mom, Bernadette, and all the men in her life. From the 600 sailors on a liberty ship, a father of six, a priest, and a good ole' boy from Missouri, momma has had quite a run of boy friends.
How does all this stuff get told as a coherent story you ask? Well you gotta read the book to find out. Don't get me wrong, I really liked this book. Weird, but enjoyable. In fact, I went back to the bookstore and bought two additional copies to give to co-workers. (Big spender that I am, $2.16 including tax).
on June 10, 2001
This was extremely well-written. A mix of science - stars, mathematics, and a life story of a man who has been born a dwarf and become an author coming to terms with now having to be in the public eye where he has always hidden in his house. Very highly recommend this one.
on August 27, 2006
I don't know what I enjoyed more, the actual story of these fascinating characters, or the sheer beauty of the language. I quickly came to know and care about all the people here: Frank, whose dwarfism makes him ugly in his own and others' eyes; Bernadette, his mother; and all the others who revolve around them like planets around the stars.
Perhaps it does getsa bit too philosophical at times, and probably should have been about 50-100 pages shorter to avoid the continued reiteration of the theme, but when the writing is so alluring, how can I carp about length?
on July 17, 2003
Enough said about the book in the previous reviews. I just want to add my 5 stars. I am so happy to have discovered Chet Raymo. This book has beautiful characters, lines that you want to re-read or memorize, astronomy (not astrology...as you'll see) all told from the perspective of a very unusual character whom you will love by the end of the book.