DeMarinis, Rick 1937–

views updated

DeMarinis, Rick 1937–

PERSONAL: Born May 3, 1937, in New York, NY; son of Alfonso and Ruth DeMarinis; married Mary Lee Palmer (divorced, 1966); married Carole Joyce Bubash (an artist and writer); children: Richard Michael, Su-zanne Louise, Naomi Anna. Education: Attended San Diego State College (now University), 1952–54; University of Montana, B.A., 1961, M.A., 1967. Politics: Independent.

ADDRESSES: Home—Missoula, MT. Agent—Candida Donadio and Associates, 121 West 27th St., New York, NY 10001.

CAREER: Writer, novelist, short-story writer, and educator. University of Montana, Missoula, instructor in English, 1967–69; San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, assistant professor of English, 1969–76; University of Texas at El Paso, professor of English, beginning 1988, currently professor emeritus. Visiting writer at Arizona State University, 1980–81, and distinguished writer-in-residence at Wichita State University. Worked as an engineer in the aerospace industry for Boeing and Lockheed. Military service: U.S. Air Force, 1954–58.

AWARDS, HONORS: Drue Heinz Literature Prize, 1986, for Under the Wheat; Literature Award, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1990; Antioch Review Distinguished Writing Award, 1998.



A Lovely Monster: The Adventures of Claude Rains and Dr. Tellenbeck, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1976.

Scimitar, Dutton (New York, NY), 1977.

Cinder, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1978.

The Burning Women of Far Cry, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1986.

The Year of the Zinc Penny, Viking (New York, NY), 1989, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2004.

The Mortician's Apprentice, Norton (New York, NY), 1994.


Jack and Jill: Two Novellas and a Short Story, Dutton (New York, NY), 1979.

Under the Wheat, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1986.

The Coming Triumph of the Free World, Viking (New York, NY), 1988.

The Voice of America, Norton (New York, NY), 1991.

Borrowed Hearts: New and Selected Stories, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Apocalypse Then (short stories), Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2004.


The Art and Craft of the Short Story, Story Press (Cincinnati, OH), 2000.

Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including Esquire, Harper's, Malahat Review, Colorado State Review, Paris Review, Antaeus, and Antioch Review.

ADAPTATIONS: The Year of the Zinc Penny has been optioned for film by MGM/Pathe.

SIDELIGHTS: Rick DeMarinis is known for his black comedies rendered in the spirit of fables and traditional tales. "DeMarinis tells stories that resemble fairy tales with a modern, black humor twist," wrote Marcia Froelke Coburn in the Chicago Tribune. "Their point of view has a bend in it, a distortion that casts everything in a new, dark light." Greg Johnson described DeMarinis's stories in the Georgia Review as "reminiscent of the post-modernist fictions of Barth or Barthelme in their flamboyance, playfulness, and self-conscious artifice."

In his early works DeMarinis wrote modern, imaginative versions of traditional stories. His A Lovely Monster: The Adventures of Claude Rains and Dr. Tellenbeck, for example, is an updated rendition of the Frankenstein tale. In DeMarinis's story, Dr. Tellenbeck uses the latest in medical technology—including lasers and a cell-glue compound—to build an artificial man who, like the Frankenstein original, lacks the human love he craves. The story, narrated by the monster, is "provocative, amusing, [and] ambiguous," according to a critic for the Atlantic. Another early novel, Cinder, tells the story of Ulysses Cinder, who comes into possession of an ancient genie with magical powers. Because of their fantastic nature, these early works were often compared to the writings of Kurt Vonnegut, Vladimir Nabokov, and John Nichols. After the appearance of Jack and Jill: Two Novellas and a Short Story, DeMarinis took a seven-year break from writing.

In 1986 he returned with a collection of short stories, Under the Wheat, and a novel, The Burning Women of Far Cry, both of which received critical praise. Under the Wheat, winner of the 1986 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, is "a collection of powerful, irreverent short stories," Janet Shaw explained in the New York Times Book Review. In the Georgia Review, Johnson noted the diversity of the stories in Under the Wheat, a quality he perceives as a distinctive feature of short fiction in the 1980s. "These seven stories," Johnson wrote, "seem deliberately arranged … to illustrate the author's technical virtuosity, progressing from … brooding realism [to] surrealistic comedy."

Though the stories in Under the Wheat vary widely in approach, they share a common perspective. DeMarinis, Shaw explained in the New York Times Book Review, "puts a bend in the world to give us a long hard look at characters who embody on a grand scale the psychological and spiritual deformities in our culture." The title story, for example, concerns a man whose job it is to inspect missile silos before the missiles are installed. The desolate farm fields of North Dakota where the silos are found, the small opening of empty sky one can see from the bottom of a silo, and the narrator's own troubled marriage combine to make a complex statement about militarism and hopelessness. In "Life between Meals," a man compensates for his unhappy life by purposely eating as much as he can, topping three hundred pounds by story's end. "The narrator's infatuation with food," Georgia Review's Johnson commented, "suggests a pathological hunger for power and control." The Chicago Tribune's Coburn argued that DeMarinis's "power lies in a wallop of terse language and an unrelenting vision of the grotesque as the proper metaphor for today's world." Johnson maintained that "readers of any persuasion will admire the versatility and technical skill that characterize this volume as a whole."

The Burning Women of Far Cry also won critical acclaim. The novel tells the story of a young man coming of age in the 1950s. Jack's father has just killed himself; his mother has remarried and has driven her second husband to madness. Jack leaves home to escape her destructive influence and drifts around the country aimlessly. After a serious accident, he returns home to visit his mother and begins to realize that he must fashion a new life for himself. The novel ends with Jack finding a job and a girlfriend, the future promising stability and a measure of happiness. Despite the grim nature of the plot, Shaw explained that in The Burning Women of Far Cry, DeMarinis "is writing farce" and the novel is filled with "a dark humor." Coburn found "an almost electrical surge of power" in DeMarinis's prose. "Like shock therapy," she continued, "his stories jolt us and change our point of view."

In his novel, The Mortician's Apprentice, DeMarinis follows the traumas of protagonist Ozzie Santee as the young man struggles to make a decision about what to do with his life after high school in Eisehhower-era San Diego, California. With the Korean War looming in the background, Ozzie knows that changes are coming soon. He greatly cherishes his freedom, symbolized by his deep appreciation of bebop and jazz. Ozzie also has another great interest in the gorgeous and vivacious Colleen Vogel, daughter of well-to-do mortician and owner of the Vogel-Darling Funeral Home. Colleen already has life with Ozzie planned out, down to how many children they are going to have and what they are going to name them. She wants Ozzie to go into business with her father and settle down to a life of domestic bliss and professional ease. Ozzie is not so sure about this plan, but then a tour of the funeral home convinces him that life with Colleen and cadavers is not for him. He sets out for a spree in Tijuana, and later makes halfhearted attempts at going to college and at working for a living. Despite his intentions, Ozzie returns to Colleen and learns how to tastefully hawk coffins to the bereaved. "Ozzie Santee is likable company—funny, amiably confused—and The Mortician's Apprentice has plenty of virtues," observed Southern Review critic Michael Grifith. The novel is "full of wily characters, juicy conflict, and salty cynicism," noted Margot Mifflin in Entertainment Weekly. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented favorably on DeMarinis's "mastery of character nuances, his precise and pungent language," and the "iron-clad sense of time and place" present in the novel. DeMarinis's "darkly sparkling coming-of-age novel takes on a thematic density and metaphoric resonance that lifts it out of the suburbia of traditional realism and places it in a neighborhood more mortally magical," remarked Lance Olsen, writing in the Review of Contemporary Fiction.

The Voice of America contains fifteen short stories in which DeMarinis demonstrates his ability to transform the "unlikeliest" characters into "fascinating protagonists," noted Sybil Steinberg in Publishers Weekly. In "The Whitened Man," the voyeuristic manager of a trailer park surreptitiously installs spy cameras in some of the rental units. The main character of "Aliens" works as a repo man but is obsessed with characters and concepts from Star Trek. The raucous celebrations of VJ day touch eleven-year-old narrator Charlie in a negative way in "Safe Forever," in which post-war revelers raid his ice cream cart and steal all his merchandise. A male writer of romance novels finds himself falling for the woman hired to pose as the female writer of his popular books in "Her Alabaster Skin." Steinberg commented: "Nearly every page in this wonderful collection of stories offers a revelation about some aspect of human experience, often hilariously funny or, simply, brilliantly observed."

Apocalypse Then is a short-story collection characterized by "startlingly vivid details, unusually skewed psychological insights, and ravishingly poetic apocalyptic intimations," commented Donna Seaman in Booklist. Divided into three sections, the first part of the book offers a connected series of seven stories about the life and trials of a man named Moss. In the first story, set in 1962, Moss deals with his wife Corliss's depression while attending college on the G.I. Bill. An attempt by Moss and two buddies to break into a physics lab to finish an experiment results in the trio being bombarded by radiation. In "The Bear Itself," Moss and Astrid, wife of his friend Roddy, save another friend from drowning. However, Astrid's heroic act triggers a reaction from Roddy that eventually leads to the destruction of their marriage. Moss, Corliss, and baby son Teller traverse North Dakota to find information on Minuteman missiles in "The Missile Gypsies." In "Freaks," thirteen-year-old Teller is socially ostracized at school and Moss develops odd medical symptoms. The stories in the second section concern men who have died in a variety of ways, from electrocution to mauling by a wild animal to revenge. The last section includes four coming-of-age stories set in the 1940s and 1950s. A Kirkus Reviews contributor observed: "The best here remind us of the author's crisp mastery of the form."



Atlantic, February, 1976, review of A Lovely Monster: The Adventures of Claude Rains and Dr. Tellenbeck, p. 111.

Booklist, July, 1994, Alice Joyce, review of The Mortician's Apprentice, p. 1921; June 1, 1999, review of Borrowed Hearts: New and Selected Stories, p. 1789; October 1, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of Apocalypse Then, p. 310.

Chicago Tribune, November 4, 1986, Marcia Froelke Coburn, "Fish-Eye View of the World," review of Under the Wheat, p. 3.

Entertainment Weekly, August 5, 1994, Margot Mifflin, review of The Mortician's Apprentice, p. 49.

Georgia Review, summer, 1987, review of Under the Wheat, p. 409.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2004, review of Apocalypse Then, p. 822.

Library Journal, May 15, 2000, Robert Moore, review of The Art and Craft of the Short Story, p. 102; February 1, 2005, Michael Rogers, review of The Year of the Zinc Penny, p. 126.

New York Times, June 27, 1999, Marc Smirnoff, "Bottomless Pits," review of Borrowed Hearts.

New York Times Book Review, December 14, 1986, Janet Shaw, reviews of The Burning Women of Far Cry and Under the Wheat, p. 26.

Publishers Weekly, March 29, 1991, Sybil Steinberg, review of The Voice of America, p. 78; May 10, 1991, Wendy Smith, "Rick DeMarinis: A Fellini Film Inspired This Former Aerospace Worker to Take up Fiction," profile of Rick DeMarinis, p. 262; July 19, 1994, review of The Mortician's Apprentice, p. 236; May 10, 1999, review of Borrowed Hearts, p. 60.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1994, Lance Olsen, review of The Mortician's Apprentice, p. 210.

Southern Review, spring, 1995, Michael Griffith, review of The Mortician's Apprentice, p. 365.


American Collection, (December 5, 2006), biography of Rick DeMarinis.

University of Texas at El Paso Department of English Web site, (December 5, 2006).