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IN BRIEF

Fiction

October 23, 1994|CHRIS GOODRICH

THE VOICE OF FREE EARTH by Michael Klein (One Horse Rhino: $19.95; 287 pp.). Fiction by first-time writers, by and large, is heavily autobiographical, and Michael Klein's "The Voice of Free Earth" is no different. Indeed, judging from this book's acknowledgments and appendices, Klein has hardly disguised his life story at all--and that's frightening, for the father in this work is an inexplicable brute. He drives around his rural neighborhood at night shooting cats with hollow-pointed bullets; he mounts a machine gun on his bomb shelter in anticipation of nuclear-winterized neighbors; he beats his son for wearing a red vest to a high-school football game; he terrifies his wife and children to such an extent that they welcome his purchase of a Porsche, so loud it provides them extra time to prepare for his arrival home. The father, what's more, is a doctor--Doc Beale, the sole physician in the San Joaquin Valley town of Free Earth, and much respected by local citizens for his long hours, loyalty and disdain for money-grubbing colleagues. Klein, who works in advertising in San Francisco, plays off the dark private side of Doc Beale against his laudable public life, but it's plain the impetus for writing this book is less literary ambition than the need to unburden; Klein most certainly is Christopher, the son who suffers terribly from Doc Beale's temper but finds pockets of joy in childhood nonetheless. Klein displays a simple but distinctive voice in "The Voice of Free Earth," the first volume (apparently self-published) of a projected trilogy, and given the stories he has to tell, shows a surprising generosity as well.

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