Lawrence Ferlinghetti (A Coney Island of the Mind) holds nothing back in his exuberant autobiographical novel, Little Boy.
Ferlinghetti, who turns 100 on Sunday, March 24, is famous for his poetry and for founding City Lights Books in San Francisco. He hails from the Beat Generation, which shows in his unpunctuated, stream-of-consciousness style. Little Boy starts out as simply a memoir. The author traces his upbringing with his French aunt and, later, with a foster family in upscale Bronxville, N.Y. Events of his early adult life are also recollected, including his service in World War II and his time spent in Paris. After this brief and sunny summary, something strange happens. The language launches in different directions as Ferlinghetti mashes up his memories with countless allusions, random thoughts and poetic digressions. The rest of the book is one big surging mass of prose poetry in the style of Allen Ginsberg.
Little Boy can be a little tedious and intimidating. But Ferlinghetti's risks pay off. His language surprises and dazzles. He elicits "the very tongue of the soul"--the fourth-person voice, he calls it. He means the unconscious voice of poetry that moves the conscious mind forward into "the ecstatic music of being." He refers to himself as a "would-be anti-hero" and the boy's life (his life) as one of "endless adventures in that wilderness of being on earth." That his work is nonlinear speaks to the way the author views the mind--as both porous and infinitely expanding. As he tries to relive memories on the page, he discovers "the eye at the center of consciousness."
Because of its experimental nature, Little Boy is not for everyone. But it will reward the daring reader with moments of pure lyricism. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset