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The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys


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About the Author

Chris Fuhrman grew up as a Catholic in Savannah, Georgia, where he was born in 1960. He received his master's degree from Columbia University. Fuhrman died of cancer in 1991 while working on the final revision of "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys," his first and only novel.


Heartbreaking yet hilarious, this posthumous novel set in Savannah, Ga., in the 1970s chronicles a school year in the life of narrator Francis Doyle, an eighth-grader at the parish school of the Blessed Heart. Though the plot turns on the youthful pranks of Francis's gang, Fuhrman brings to his characters a near-adult consciousness as rites of passage like the first kiss are interwoven with imaginative acts of adolescent revolt and moments of terrible family life. Francis, soulful and suffering from a hernia, is beaten regularly by his father and turns to drink. He falls in love with Margie--a delicate, off-balance girl with a ``wrist fragile as a swan's throat,'' who attempted suicide the year before--and longs for her with a sensual need that is captivating. When Francis first sees her, in church, the touching, love-at-first-sight moment is juxtaposed with the slapstick antics of a dog, with ``tags clinking,'' who urinates against the altar. By marrying the earnest to the ridiculous, Fuhrman captures the sublime intensity of adolescence. But the novel expands beyond first-rate character studies as Francis and his friends struggle against the racial prejudice that saturates their school and neighborhood and threatens to explode into a race riot when a black schoolmate breaks a duck's wing with a baseball bat. Fuhrman (1960-1991) died of cancer while working on the final revision of this book--his first and last, which can be compared to many of the classic coming-of-age novels. (Aug.)

Fuhrman handles his material with wit and grace. There are no false remembrances, there is no condescension; the boys appear here in all their gum-chewing, insult-spitting, girl fantasizing naivete and candor.

--Washington Times

Fuhrman takes wicked pleasure in scraping teen innocence against the graveled, perverse underbelly of suburban childhood.


Heartbreaking yet hilarious . . . By marrying the earnest to the ridiculous, Fuhrman captures the sublime intensity of adolescence.

--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

One of the most strikingly original novels of recent memory.

--Creative Loafing

The author's real triumph lies in his ability to plumb wild young minds, to reveal the ardent romantic hearts that beat within wisecracking boys. Their wild, unselfconscious beauty permeates the book. . . . We may never know what a loss [Chris Fuhrman's death] was. Who knows how many other brilliant, beautiful, heartbreaking books he may have written?

--Boston Book Review

This book deserves many, many readers. . . . A memorable, funny, and poignant depiction of a glorious boyhood chased down and brutally terminated . . . A story as odd, vivid, painful, splendid, and sad as adolescence itself . . . Fuhrman's posthumous debut invites wistful speculation about the sort of career which might have followed it.


The moral of the story . . . has so much gravity and grace. . . . This is the real thing, writing done with everything on the line . . . The death of Chris Fuhrman is an incalculable loss to this generation of writers. We should be glad to have his testimony.

--Boston Globe

The freshness of Fuhrman's novel comes from his ability to squeeze out of a time of transition universal evocations of rebellion against growing up. . . . Fuhrman provides his story and characters with enough originality to keep the narrative clipping along and his reader totally absorbed.

--Chicago Tribune

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