DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

By Frank Corsaro
Forge/ $24.95/ 336 pages
ISBN: 0765304724 (June 2003)

Cover Kunma is Frank Corsaro's first novel, but he's hardly a young punk. He'll be 79 this coming December and he's just been too busy to get around to it before now. Corsaro is a theatrical legend whose biography is too rich to get into here. I'll just sum it up with: Stage director Frank Corsaro has served on the Julliard faculty since 1987, been associated with the New York City Opera since 1957, is the artistic director of the Julliard opera Center and is the former artistic director of the Actor's Studio in New York City.

Not surprisingly, he writes with considerable dramatic brio. Kunma is reminiscent of the novels of Ira Levin at his best and chock full of colorful characters and snappy dialogue. But Corsaro's concept of good and evil is far less Manichean and far more exotically ecumenical than Levin's.

Prime protag is heroic psychiatrist, Buddhist Jew, and general mensch Dr. David Sussman. The plot has something to do with a demon, reincarnation, and karmic destiny. The Kunma is a sort of gentler, kinder-than-the-Catholic, Buddhist variety of demon: mean, nasty, ugly, murderous, and willing to take possession of and t orment humans -- but it's really only seeking redemption.

The novel has a dated tone, but this is rationalized with an early 1980s setting. (For all I know, the manuscript could have languished for 20 years at Tor. But even Tor isn't that slow. I don't think.) Sussman, for instance, is considered unacceptably radical because he wants to incorporate Buddhist philosophy into his therapy. There is discussion of "the occult," the sad plight of Tibet is still obscure (no Free Tibet concerts two decades ago), there are no computers or cell phones mentioned, and people smoke cigarettes and recognize quotations from Shakespeare.

Corsaro's style of novelizing is a bit old-fashioned, too, and he seems to have studied in the "how to write a bestseller" school of writing. But there are blessings in this. He employs words like "bardo," "glabrous," "crenellated," and "sangfroid" as easily as (and more accurately than) au courant writers use "fuck." There's also a delightful, natural, and unpretentious use of goyim-be-damned Yiddish that one rarely encounters outside of Manhattan these days.

Kunma may not be as profound as its author intended, but it at least provides an interesting glimpse of one system of Buddhist belief. This one isn't the haute cuisine of "literature" -- but it is really good fast food. -- (Review originally appeared in Cemetery Dance #45)

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Copyright © 2003 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.