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IN BRIEF

Fiction

February 11, 1996|ERIKA TAYLOR

WHAT THE DEAF-MUTE HEARD by G. D. Gearino (Simon & Schuster: $21; 221 pp.). Narrated by Sammy Ayers, a man who has been passing himself off as a deaf-mute since the age of 10, "What the Deaf-Mute Heard" is a shamelessly manipulative, unrealistic story, where a twisted sort of "good" triumphs over billboard-size caricatures of evil. Spanning 52 years in a small Southern town, G. D. Gearino's first novel repeatedly jumps through time. The plot is completely abandoned during a suspenseful moment, only to pick up from a previous suspenseful moment taking place years earlier or later. This tactic would be fine if it were employed judiciously, but we are given the entire book in a piecemeal fashion as if to allay fears that the plot itself couldn't sustain us.

In addition to plot problems, there are Sammy Ayers' problems. His character feels contrived almost to the point of coldness. It is easy to imagine how the creators of many children's television shows produce a cartoon animal who's every feature is designed to slide directly into the psyche of small children. It is an inorganic process reflected in the subtle flatness of the end product. Sammy Ayers feels that way, and in spite of some nice details and humor, "What the Deaf-Mute Heard" is ultimately an exercise in robotics.

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