by George Dawes Green
Although he went on to write two nicely reviewed novels — The Juror and the recently published Ravens — I found both of them to be a bit too scary for my taste. But I absolutely loved George Dawes Green’s very first novel, The Caveman’s Valentine, published way back in 1994. (I am so happy it’s back in print from Grand Central Publishing.) It’s a page-turner with wonderfully three-dimensional characters. Bad things happen, but nothing absolutely too awful to bear. Romulus Ledbetter, the caveman of the title, is a Juilliard-trained classical pianist. He’s also homeless and a paranoid schizophrenic. (He would say that he isn’t, technically, homeless, since he lives in a cave in Manhattan’s Linwood Park.) In the time that isn’t taken up with searching for food in dumpsters, Romulus wages war against the sinister Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant, whom Rom believes is beaming down totally dangerous Y rays from the Chrysler Building. These rays are the direct cause of all the ills facing humankind, and Rom is convinced he must find Stuyvesant and stop him. He’s diverted from his quest because one Valentine’s Day morning, Romulus discovers a dead body lying in front of his cave. Driven to find the murderer, he must reconnect with the world he’d long ago left behind, including his daughter, a policewoman, all the while coping (or not) with his schizophrenia, his hatred of Stuyvesant, and the “civilized” world.