Look homeward, angel carver

August 30, 1993|By Susan M. Barbieri | Susan M. Barbieri,Orlando Sentinel

Although the cobbler's name is Jack Standini, he is generally known in his corner of Brooklyn, N.Y., as "the shoe man." Since his wife, Angela, disappeared in 1952, Jack wears his anonymity as comfortably as his customers wear their old broken-in shoes.

PTC There will never again be the kind of love and joy in his life that he had for those newlywed days with Angela. She disappeared, so he will, too.

By night, the lonely shoe man retreats to a secret locked room in his apartment where he carves exquisite angels from ebony and ash -- angels of all sizes, wings poised in different stages of flight, lovely faces alive with human expression in all its variety.

And such eyes! The eyes sparkle with jewels painstakingly selected from an importer.

All of Jack's love goes into his angels. The room full of cherubs and seraphs is a source of eternal comfort to a heartbroken man blessed with hands that can create breathtaking art.

"The Angel Carver," the new novel by Rosanne Daryl Thomas, is an allegory for our age -- a tale of evil and greed attempting to destroy the good, the artistically pure. With this shoe man as the central sympathetic figure, "The Angel Carver" points up the difference between art and artifice, and the relationship between loss and desire.

Ms. Thomas writes:

"What his hands could do with leather was nothing compared to what they could do with good wood. He tested himself. If he pictured a wind-bent wing, he could carve it. If he wanted to seize the divine instant when a guardian angel shielded his charge, it was within his power. Working on his angels brought him a soaring ecstasy. And the more he gave himself to them, the less his soul yearned for womanly comfort," Thomas writes.

But a beautiful innocent, Lucille Bixby, becomes an unwitting catalyst in the shoe man's eventual emotional decline. Lucille, who wants nothing more than to make herself over into Marilyn Monroe, walks into Reliable Repair one day with a pair of damaged shoes and walks out with Jack's heart.

Soon she meets Buddy Lomax, an "image banker" who spots Lucille at a Marilyn Monroe look-alike contest and promises to make her more Marilyn than Marilyn. Lucille believes; her friend, the shoe man, doesn't. Tragically, Lucille chooses the wrong man to be her Pygmalion.

Lomax manipulates photographic images on a computer enhancer by Linotype Hell Graphics. The machine is known simply as "The Hell." As Lucille is drawn inexorably under Lomax's spell, she lets slip too many things about her beloved shoe man. One day when Jack is away, Lomax talks Lucille into letting him see the secret room in the shoe man's apartment.

Lomax sees the angels and decides he must have them. He uses The Hell to torment Jack. Lomax appropriates the shoe man's precious memories of Angela and uses them to drive the old man mad and procure the angels for himself.

Lucille disappears into her Marilyn persona and is lost to Jack. Jailed on a false murder charge and torn away from his last remaining source of comfort, his angels, the shoe man's emotional state deteriorates.

But deliverance can come in different forms. Guardian angels can be either creations of the mind, creations of the hand, or flesh and blood and feeling. One of them must surely deliver Jack.

Ms. Thomas has chiseled a sweet, transcendent fable about loss and desire. Simply told yet beautifully complex, "The Angel Carver" is a modern morality tale that keeps the reader turning pages until finally the shoe man gets what he yearns for.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "The Angel Carver"

Author: Rosanne Daryl Thomas

Publisher: Random House

Length, price: 260 pages, $20

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