Fictive Fathers in the Contemporary American Novel
 9781501340048, 9781501340055, 9781501340062

Table of contents :
Cover page
Halftitle page
Title page
Copyright page
Dedication
CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
1 Introduction
The Haunting
Theoretical Fathers
Historical Fathers
Storytelling after the Father
The Organization of the Book
2 Anxieties of Influence and the Decline of the Patriarch
John Irving’s Family Romances—The World According to Garp
Jonathan Franzen’s Fallen Father —The Corrections
3 Middle-class America at Mid-century
Jane Smiley and the Father Dethroned—A Thousand Acres
Anne Tyler: The Domestic Comedy of Home Economics and Homesickness— Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
Philip Roth’s Late Fathers —Everyman ,Indignation, Nemesis
Marilynne Robinson’s Earthly Fathers—Gilead, Home, Lila
4 Desiring Daughters
Jeffrey Eugenides and the Odor of Cooped-up Girls —The Virgin Suicides
Mona Simpson: He Was Only a Man—The Lost Father
Carole Maso: The Art of Losing—The Art Lover
5 Searching Sons, the Word, and the Flesh
Paul Auster: The Body in/and the Text—City of Glass, Moon Palace, Mr. Vertigo
Jonathan Lethem: Signifying Manqué—Motherless Brooklyn
6 The Father in the Apocalyptic Imagination—Part One: The Environment
Don DeLillo: The Genealogical Imperative as Toxic Event—White Noise
Cormac McCarthy: “There is no Book and your Fathers are Dead in the Ground”—The Road
7 The Father in the Apocalyptic Imagination—Part Two: Politics and 9/11
Philip Roth’s Orphans—The PlotAgainst America
Jonathan Safran Foer and the Fathers’ Fall—Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Claire Messud and “Dad’s Thing”—The Emperor’s Children
8 Postmemory after the Patriarch: Narrating the War in Vietnam
Bobbie Ann Mason at the Tomb of an Unknown Soldier —In Country
Tim O’Brien Among the Missing—In the Lake of the Woods
Viet Thanh Nguyen and Traumatic Representation—The Sympathizer
NOTES
WORKS CITED
INDEX

Citation preview

Fictive Fathers in the Contemporary American Novel

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Fictive Fathers in the Contemporary American Novel Debra Shostak

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BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC Bloomsbury Publishing Inc 1385 Broadway, New York, NY 10018, USA 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP, UK BLOOMSBURY, BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published in the United States of America 2020 Copyright © Debra Shostak, 2020 For legal purposes the Acknowledgments on p. ix constitute an extension of this copyright page. Cover design by Eleanor Rose Cover photograph supplied by author All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. Bloomsbury Publishing Inc does not have any control over, or responsibility for, any third-party websites referred to or in this book. All internet addresses given in this book were correct at the time of going to press. The author and publisher regret any inconvenience caused if addresses have changed or sites have ceased to exist, but can accept no responsibility for any such changes. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Shostak, Debra B., author. Title: Fictive fathers in the contemporary American novel / Debra Shostak. Description: New York : Bloomsbury Academic, 2020. | Includes bibliographical references and index. | Summary: “Investigates the unstable construction of white masculinity in the United States through close analysis of father-child relationships in the novels of 18 American writers in the late 20th and early 21st centuries”–Provided by publisher. Identifiers: LCCN 2019037276 (print) | LCCN 2019037277 (ebook) | ISBN 9781501340048 (hardback) | ISBN 9781501340055 (epub) | ISBN 9781501340062 (pdf) Subjects: LCSH: Fathers in literature. | Father and child in literature. | American fiction– 20th century–History and criticism. | American fiction–21st century–History and criticism. Classification: LCC PS374.F35 S56 2020 (print) | LCC PS374.F35 (ebook) | DDC 813/.5099286--dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019037276 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019037277 ISBN:

HB: 978-1-5013-4004-8 ePDF: 978-1-5013-4006-2 eBook: 978-1-5013-4005-5

Typeset by RefineCatch Limited, Bungay, Suffolk To find out more about our authors and books visit www.bloomsbury.com and sign up for our newsletters.

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For my family Jeff, Sarah, and Michael

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CONTENTS

Acknowledgments ix

1 Introduction

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The Haunting 1 Theoretical Fathers 3 Historical Fathers 7 Storytelling after the Father 15 The Organization of the Book 20

2 Anxieties of Influence and the Decline of the Patriarch

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John Irving’s Family Romances—The World According to Garp 25 Jonathan Franzen’s Fallen Father—The Corrections 34

3 Middle-class America at Mid-century

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Jane Smiley and the Father Dethroned—A Thousand Acres 52 Anne Tyler: The Domestic Comedy of Home Economics and Homesickness—Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant 56 Philip Roth’s Late Fathers—Everyman, Indignation, Nemesis 65 Marilynne Robinson’s Earthly Fathers—Gilead, Home, Lila 73

4 Desiring Daughters

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Jeffrey Eugenides and the Odor of Cooped-up Girls—The Virgin Suicides 93 Mona Simpson: He Was Only a Man—The Lost Father 95 Carole Maso: The Art of Losing—The Art Lover 101

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CONTENTS

5 Searching Sons, the Word, and the Flesh

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Paul Auster: The Body in/and the Text—City of Glass, Moon Palace, Mr. Vertigo 116 Jonathan Lethem: Signifying Manqué—Motherless Brooklyn 134

6 The Father in the Apocalyptic Imagination—Part One: The Environment 145 Don DeLillo: The Genealogical Imperative as Toxic Event—White Noise 146 Cormac McCarthy: “There is no Book and your Fathers are Dead in the Ground”—The Road 157

7 The Father in the Apocalyptic Imagination—Part Two: Politics and 9/11 171 Philip Roth’s Orphans—The Plot Against America 174 Jonathan Safran Foer and the Fathers’ Fall—Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close 182 Claire Messud and “Dad’s Thing”—The Emperor’s Children 188

8 Postmemory after the Patriarch: Narrating the War in Vietnam 197 Bobbie Ann Mason at the Tomb of an Unknown Soldier—In Country 200 Tim O’Brien Among the Missing—In the Lake of the Woods 206 Viet Thanh Nguyen and Traumatic Representation—The Sympathizer 216 Notes 229 Works Cited Index 271

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I am grateful to the College of Wooster for supporting the research leave in 2016–17 that allowed me to begin work on this project, and for providing additional funding from the Faculty Development Fund that made it possible for me to take up residence in England during the Spring of 2017, in Reading and London, for a fruitful period of writing and collegial exchange with British scholars of American literature. I thank the University of Reading for granting me privileges as a Visiting Professor during my stay, and I am most grateful to the English Departments at both Reading and the University of East Anglia for invitations to present portions of my research. I am indebted as well to students at the College of Wooster with whom I’ve read novels explored in this study, for their challenging questions and new insights—and for the gift of their curiosity, energy, and good humor. I gratefully acknowledge permission to reproduce my prior work in altered form in portions of Chapters 2, 5, and 7. I thank Taylor & Francis, on behalf of Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, for permission to reproduce portions of “Plot as Repetition: John Irving’s Narrative Experiments” (vol. 37, no. 1, 1995, pp.  51–70) and “Under the Sign of Moon Palace: Paul Auster and the Body in the Text” (vol. 49, no. 2, 2008, pp.  149–70); relevant information appears at www.tandfonline.com/. I thank Bloomsbury Academic for permission to reproduce material on Jonathan Safran Foer and Philip Roth that appeared in 9/11: Topics in Contemporary North American Literature (2016), edited by Catherine Morley; and I thank Western Illinois University for permission to reproduce material on John Irving that appeared in Essays in Literature (vol. 21, no. 1, Spring 1994, pp. 129–45). Finally, I thank two sources for rights to reprint material in the epigraph to Chapter 1: Excerpt from THE DEAD FATHER by Donald Barthelme. Copyright © 1975 by Donald Barthelme, used by permission of The Wylie Agency LLC; Excerpt from THE DEAD FATHER by Donald Barthelme. Copyright © 1975 by Donald Barthelme. Copyright renewed 2003 by Marion Barthelme. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Conferences sponsored by the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, the University of Nottingham, the University of Louisville, the American Literature Association, the Jewish American and Holocaust Literature Association, the Western Jewish Studies Association, and the British Association of American Studies provided welcome settings for me to ix

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present work in progress. I’m grateful, too, to Ruth Maxey for excellent suggestions regarding my analysis of Nguyen’s The Sympathizer. It is impossible to express sufficient gratitude to all who have been supportive while I developed this project—lively companions, keen minds, generous colleagues, loving friends and family. With such encouragement, random notes I began collecting two decades ago came together into the present volume. I owe a tremendous debt to colleagues at the College of Wooster, models of scholarship and teaching, collegiality, good sense, and saving humor: Ahmet Atay, Daniel Bourne, Susan Clayton, Joanne Frye, Nancy Grace, Jennifer Hayward, Jimmy Noriega, Tom Prendergast, and the late Larry Stewart. I owe as much gratitude to far-flung colleagues, as well. David Brauner, with whom I have shared all things Roth and the editorship of Philip Roth Studies, has long been a boon companion. I never cease to be amazed at how uncannily we agree on so many matters of interpretation, judgment, and value. I am grateful for the friendship of Tim Parrish, fellow Roth obsessive, and John Lyon, whose year away from the University of Bristol to serve as a distinguished Wooster “Scot” began two decades of engaging, affectionate interchange. I offer heartfelt thanks for the companionship of Victoria Aarons; the delight of her scholarly passion is matched for me by the serendipity of sharing interests, sensibilities, and ways of thinking. I am deeply grateful as well for the pleasure of conversations with the many wonderful colleagues I’ve met through the Philip Roth Society. As a newcomer to organizations within Jewish American studies, I am indebted to Vicki Aarons, along with Hilene Flanzbaum, Holli Levitsky, and Sharon Oster, for welcoming me into the fold—and for sharing a marvelous working “retreat” during a chilly spring break in southern California. I thank, too, those from my younger days—Joe Boone, Jean Holland, Mary Mekemson, and Lisa Straus—who will always be treasured friends and confidantes. Close to home, in spirit if not geography, I owe enormous thanks to dear Wooster friends, now retired from the College, who have been there for me from the beginning. I remember with deep affection the late John Hondros, who gave me confidence at the start of my career and, together with his wife, Rena Hondros, became fast friends, hosting some of my most memorable evenings. I thank Jack Russell and Susan Russell, for living a model of goodwill and integrity. Profoundest gratitude goes to John Gabriele, for his uncompromising commitment to scholarship and teaching, for making me laugh, and for hosting, with Carolyn Durham, many of my other most memorable evenings. And finally to Carolyn, whom I’ve always seen as representing the best self I might aspire to, for her devotion to the life of the mind, her canny, fearless professional leadership and rigorous but kind teaching, her love of sharing books and movies and students and wit and little pleasures, and her endless generosity and thoughtfulness. I have always taken it as a tremendous, unearned compliment that, although we look

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nothing alike, colleagues at the College have at times confused us with each other. I couldn’t ask for a better friend. Closest to home—indeed, making my home a home—I thank my family, who are nothing like the families diagnosed in the pages that follow. I am immensely grateful and proud that my children, Sarah Pinkham and Michael Pinkham, are deep thinkers, passionate about social and environmental justice, loving children, siblings, and partners, endowed with so many virtues: insight, integrity, humor, sympathy, patience, and respect. As members of the next generation, they are postpatriarchal in the best possible way, busy redefining our world and place in it. Finally, but by no means least, I thank my husband, Jeff Pinkham, whose contributions are daily and innumerable, and who has always taken fatherhood, and family, as his most cherished gifts and ways of being.

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1 Introduction

Dead but still with us, still with us, but dead. DONALD BARTHELME, The Dead Father (1975)

The Haunting My best friend in elementary school was a girl I’ll call Sharon Banks, whom I met in a brand-new, middle- and working-class white suburb on the fringes of Chicago to which my parents fled from the city in the late 1950s. Mr. Banks was a handsome young father, a Korean War veteran who had proudly flown in the Air Force and displayed his ribbons and rifles on the living room wall. I was too young at the time to be sensitive to the real circumstances of the Banks family, but I later surmised that they may have been less than happy while he struggled financially as a salesman, and that perhaps Mr. Banks’s most fulfilling years had been those memorialized above the television set. After Sharon left with her family for another state and city when we were in our teens, I eventually learned of her father’s alcoholism and her parents’ divorce. Nothing is unusual about this story of mid-century, Midwestern life falling short of the promise of the American Dream. In fact, it eerily recalls the disappointment that, portrayed famously in 1960 by John Updike in the young antihero of Rabbit, Run, seemed to resonate with a wide readership. Nothing is unusual, that is, except for its ending. Or rather, its lack of an ending. Some years later, I heard from Sharon that her father had disappeared. Not just that he had left the family to invent another life, but that he had vanished entirely, like Ambrose Bierce, or Amelia Earhart, or Jimmy Hoffa. Sharon sought him out where he was last known to be living, somewhere in the Southwest, but she was unable to pick up his trail. Sharon, her brother, and her sister grew into their full adulthood under the dark cloud of their father’s inexplicable, interminable absence, a gap that never closed for them, filled perhaps only with fantasies of his perishing in the desert, or dying 1

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alone and destitute in a shabby motel—or even starting over under an assumed name with a substitute family, displacing the three of them into a filial purgatory. At times I wondered how much influence her father’s disappearance had on her own somewhat stultified adult life and her brother’s increasingly disabling depression. For many years, I have been haunted by Sharon’s family’s story, though my haunting is a pale, insignificant, presumptuous shadow of the trauma she and her siblings experienced. Only fairly recently, however, has it occurred to me that my tendency to notice a commonality among a wide range of novels I have read over the last few decades may have stemmed in part from the powerfully disturbing narrative that had for me come to define my friend’s life. I was primed, that is, to discern that numerous, widely varied novels published in the United States in the late twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first represented father figures in one way or another missing from the family scene. My sense is that the portrayals of figurative absence are as wounding in their own way as those of literal abandonment. White, mostly middle-class, imagined by white male and female writers, these fictional fathers, once dislodged from their dominant position in the family and culture, disrupt the familial order, contributing to the dysfunction of the group as a whole and the children as individuals. Even those fathers who are nominally present may become effectively absent to their families, ghostly emanations who perform the paradox of being, as Barthelme writes, at once “dead but still with us” (Dead Father 3). Why is it that so many works of fiction of the last fifty years, especially those centering on relations within middle-class white families, are haunted by the figure of a father who, like Mr. Banks, fails his family or vanishes in actuality? In what ways do such absences matter to the family or, for that matter, to the culture for which the family provides a material microcosm? How does the image of the father and the family that Sharon and I inherited as children make his absence traumatically meaningful in particular ways? What are the nature and sources of the originary image of paternal security and authority that cause disappointment, disruption, or trauma when an individual father falls short? And, in a fundamental sense, has this image ever truly existed in the flesh? Under what conditions and to what ends do these novels represent such absences and failures—and their consequences for the family? Fictive Fathers in the Contemporary American Novel strives to explore these questions from a variety of angles, framed by both theoretical, largely atemporal, hypotheses about the symbolic function of fathers and analyses specific to the material lives of late twentieth and twenty-first century fathers in the United States. My inquiry takes its direction from the double meaning embedded in the titular “fictive fathers.” First, the book examines a range of performances of fatherhood in over two dozen selected novels of the long postwar period. I focus on texts that, with one important exception, take the

INTRODUCTION

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whiteness of their central characters as normative but that in other respects cast a wide net regarding the personal, social, and historical circumstances within which their characters play out their lives. These representations are “fictive” according to the obvious sense that they present imaginary people. Nevertheless, whether a given writer adopts a largely realistic or more experimental form, these characters say something useful about the conditions, practices, and ideologies of American domestic life during the period. Second, the book highlights paternal figures laboring under the ideologically dominant model of an idealized, heteronormative, white, middle-class, nuclear family. They are fathers for (and by) whom the pervasive construction of traditional white fatherhood in the United States is laid bare as illusory. This “fictive” fatherhood constitutes a myth, on the social plane, and a fantasy, on the personal plane. Consistent among the novels by some eighteen authors examined within these pages are not only portrayals of the actual or effective absence of the fathers, but generally also the ambivalent responses of the children, which in turn expose fundamental ideological contradictions in the texts. However much the children may feel abandoned or injured, the paternal portraits appear melancholic and mournful, often curiously nostalgic. Indeed, it seems that the traditional narrative of oedipal resistance is typically inextricable in these novels from its apparent obverse: the longing for the father’s authority, evincing a contradiction already embedded in the oedipal story. The novels I explore in these pages are frequently backward-looking toward rupture, not future-directed toward healing or reconciliation, because the longing for the father as both figure of authority and author of the child’s identity signifies a diffuse but overwhelming longing to retrieve a past or condition from which the present actors feel severed. The story of familial dynamics under consideration in Fictive Fathers expresses a child’s desire to insert the self into history, to (re)capture a past that likely never was but, rather, is tautologically the fantasized projection of longing.

Theoretical Fathers Such an ambivalent response—to suffer the injuries wrought by the father yet neither repudiate him nor move beyond a yearning for his authority— derives from contradictions deeply embedded within the image of Western masculinity in modernity—what Ben Knights has referred to as “hegemonic masculinity” (8). The image of normative (white) Western manhood evolved from the Enlightenment stereotype of an autonomous liberal subject who embraced bourgeois sensibilities, ideals of self-control and manly beauty, and connections with nationhood.1 The articulation of this image is a starting point for understanding both the authority and the trauma associated with the father figure. The modern image would not exist without

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Freudian psychoanalysis, and its inflections are especially well framed within the vocabulary of Jacques Lacan’s rereading of Freud. In her analysis of male subjectivity, for example, Kaja Silverman succinctly identifies the paternal image as the “dominant fiction” of the culture, the “ideological reality through we which ‘ideally’ live both the symbolic order and the mode of production,” and within which the “most privileged term is the phallus” (20).2 The compensatory psychosocial model, designed to conceal the impossible ideal upon which our “ideological reality” is based, begins from Lacan’s premise that “[i]n acceding to language, the subject forfeits all existential reality, and foregoes any future possibility of ‘wholeness’ ”; the subject thus assumes “that lack of being is the irreducible condition of subjectivity” (4). Silverman posits that the ideology of power constructing male subjectivity “depends upon a kind of collective make-believe in the commensurability of penis and phallus” (15). We depend on the dominant fiction for a sense of wholeness and order to fill the lack of completion and coherence we confront once we function within the symbolic order of language that binds us into the social world. The maintenance of the dominant fiction, Silverman argues, “solicits our faith above all else in the unity of the family, and the adequacy of the male subject” (16)—an “adequacy” that depends on disavowing the oedipal narrative of symbolic castration so as to ensure the power of the father.3 The dominant ideology takes the normative heterosexual family as the kernel unit of the social order. The potency of the biological father’s penis— representing the physical power of procreation and thus the genealogical bonding that perpetuates the order temporally, across generations—is ideologically conflated with the symbolic phallus.4 This masculinist conflation, which bestows reciprocal power on both penis and phallus, puts the mythic, patriarchal father at the symbolic center of the social order. In Lacan’s terms, the Name-of-the-Father is the “central signifier of unity” lodged in “the (paternal) family” (Silverman 34), because the child bears the father’s name as a sign of the continuity of social identity.5 Within the dominant myth, the law, which symbolically articulates and codifies the rules of the social order (most prominently, the taboos against incest and patricide), is inextricable from the Name-of-the-Father. Paradoxically, however, the power of the symbolic Father is best preserved when the actual father is out of sight—when, that is, “the notion of the father [is] a name for the inaccessible and the non-revealed” (Bueno, Caesar, and Hummel 3). If an invisible father cannot be measured against the mythic Father, he cannot be found, as it were, lacking. For my purposes, the concept of the dominant fiction is important for two reasons. First, it places the white heteronormative father figure at the ideological center of the social order. Second, it announces itself fundamentally as a fiction, a myth, if you will, constructed for the preservation of the order. The fiction thereby disguises what Silke-Maria Weineck recognizes as “the

INTRODUCTION

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incommensurability of individual fathers, symbolic fathers, patriarchal structures, [and] paternal metaphors” which “all live off the affectively invested word ‘father,’ and [. . .] all return to the man who begets or the man who raises children” (5). By conflating or confusing these multiple registers for “father,” the fictiveness of the dominant fiction allows the subject who has entered into it to disavow recognition of lack. Yet lack initiates desire, which is in turn the motive for narrative. Put another way, writers are drawn to stories of loss and absence, because such conditions provoke desire. Characters, like plots, need a reason for action. In his psychoanalytic reading of narrative form, Peter Brooks notes that “desire comes into being as a perpetual want for (of) a satisfaction that cannot be offered in reality” (55), and that narrative itself “is the place of transformation: where the problems posed to and by initiatory desire are worked out and worked through” (92). When Robert Con Davis brings the psychoanalytic reading of narrative directly into the symbolic field of the father figure, he emphasizes the structuring power of the father who is not present: “the question of the father in fiction, in whatever guise, is essentially one of father absence; [. . .] each manifestation of the father in a text is a refinding of an absent father” (3). “Knowledge of the father’s empty place,” Davis writes further, “constitutes desire itself” (9), specifically the “desire for the father’s function” (7) that initiates narrative discourse. The concept of narrative desire is, of course, a figurative displacement of individual psychic desire, stirred by the absence of an object. As Weineck notes, “after Freud, [. . . the] father who matters the most [. . . is] the psychic father, the father as inner object” (15). A child internalizes the inner object in the place of the father. Because the child longs to hear a paternal voice echoing the internal voice of the father-image, Weineck points out that “[s]ilence is the source of his power, but also his great weakness” (2). In the absence of a father, or in the presence of an impotent father, the voice the child imagines to fill the silence risks opening a chasm between the ideal and the real—thus perhaps puncturing the fiction upon which the father’s authority rests. My brief summary of the structural function of the symbolic father in narrative does not uncover all the ambivalences and contradictions that attend the individual and collective desire for that function, nor does it wholly account for the essentially fictive nature of the father’s authority, including when the father’s progeny willingly participate in the fiction by repressing their knowledge of paternal inadequacy. A starting point in understanding the ambivalence toward fathers and the repression of awareness of such feelings among sons and daughters lies in Freud’s speculative myth about the primordial father in Totem and Taboo (1913). Freud imagines “a violent and jealous father who keeps all the females for himself and drives away his sons as they grow up”; he therefore conjures a day on which “the brothers who had been driven out came together, killed and devoured their father and so made an end of the patriarchal horde”

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(Totem 141). One result of the originary patricide, Freud suggests, is that “[a] sense of guilt made its appearance, which in this instance coincided with the remorse felt by the whole group,” which leads to the unanticipated irony that “[t]he dead father became stronger than the living one had been” (143). The conceptual authority of the father, residing within the child’s consciousness, is more powerful even than his punishing hand in constraining desire and act. The parable demonstrates how ideology—the law—attains its dominance, displacing force into control. Nina Schwartz draws on Freud’s myth in her Lacanian reading of ambivalence toward fathers in modern narrative as “figures of respected and yet not always trusted authority” (1). Like Silverman and others, Schwartz zeroes in on the contradictory mechanism of disclosure and concealment necessary to perpetuating the law and the symbolic power of the father figure. She argues that “the murder of the primal father was also the beginning of the human subject, the ‘split subject,’ insofar as it instituted the need for repression, divided the subject between the conscious and unconscious mental operations, and produced the superego that derives from another, more metaphorical internalization of the father and his prohibitions” (8). Those prohibitions constitute the father’s law, whose operation must be conscious for us to adhere to its constraints, but whose fundamental constructedness we elide. Though that law is “absolutely arbitrary,” Schwartz suggests, “We choose to live with the dead father rather than understand, lest a recognition of the father’s lack of authority return us to his rule, to the horror of the Real,” which in turn is “the lack, the need for whose disguise produces the symbolic” (9, italics in original).6 Explicit within the choice to “live with the dead father” rather than recognize his “lack of authority” is the knowledge that he has no real authority, thus comprising the fictiveness of the dominant fiction. Susan Varney compellingly distills the historicity of Freud’s concept of the oedipal relation, recuperating it from charges of suspect theory and political conservatism, by exploring how it reveals his effort “to understand how subjects come to terms with what is, in fact, the irrecoverable foundationlessness [. . .] of modern existence” (256). Starting from the point that, historically, “[p]aternal obligation [. . .] appears to offer the surest foundation upon which to build a stable network of social ties” (253), she notes that “the Enlightenment rhetoric of the rights of man drew into question the orthodoxy of a patriarchal State formation”—posing the individual against the collectivity. Such doubt, she posits, is eventually fulfilled in the “modern aesthetic” of the Great War (254) that “bears witness to a culture of mourning”—not only for the unspeakable loss of lives but also for the loss “of the father fantasy upon which the seemingly secure foundations of earlier domestic and national relations had depended” (255). Dilating upon what she takes as Lacan’s central interest, the “question of the father,” Varney argues that the father fantasy sustained by the Oedipus complex is the model “through which to comprehend the ties

INTRODUCTION

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that build and sustain both social and sexual relations in the absence of any metaphysical foundation” (256). The father fantasy, she suggests, allows the individual subject to avoid “a completely impersonalized emergence into the formal framework of the Symbolic” via a compensatory fantasy of “social ties as well as the fantasy of individual recognition” (259) from the father figure. The clinging to such a fantasy at the modernist moment registers a desperate impulse, both individual and cultural, to hide, erase, or repress the knowledge of “ineradicable alienation” (259). However illusorily, the fantasy enables subjects to feel fully constituted and autonomous within the social world. Such modern alienation is at once ahistorical—as a function of the individual subject’s trauma at being initiated into the Lacanian Symbolic, the order of language and figuration—and historical, insofar as it comes to light when World War I smashes long-held illusions of social order and meaning in the West.7

Historical Fathers I have dwelt at length on Varney’s account, including how her “father fantasy” renames Silverman’s “dominant fiction,” because the former term has the advantage of shifting the discursive focus from abstract social myth to the terrain of individual psychic relations. Indeed, the fantasy exists as a problematic mystification insofar as no actual father can fulfill it. A powerful critique of the monolithic construction of the father as an abstract, symbolic function appears when Patricia Yaeger and Beth KowaleskiWallace introduce the notion of the embodied father after observing how feminist theory had “refigured” the “father’s centrality and omnipotence” (x)—effectively displacing the father from the center of the social world. In particular, they open feminist critical discourse up to real fathers who were previously excluded from the kinds of narrative ascribed to female subjectivity: When feminist writers construe the father as a metaphor for the patriarchy, we lose sight of the complexities of paternity and the paternal function. The power of an individual father becomes conflated with the power of patriarchy; we miss the ways in which fathers inhabit a “shifting series of ideological positions” in which men are also misshapen by homosocial values (xi).8 Yaeger and Kowaleski-Wallace’s revisionary project is to “develop a new dialectic that refuses to describe the father function as if it were univocal and ahistorical”—that is, beyond the oedipal reification of “the father as law, as the gaze, as bodiliness, or as the symbolic” (xi). This project restores

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the complexity of subjectivity to fathers even as it restores their embodiment— but as a result it also necessarily fractures the father fantasy. Once doubt enters into the field of the symbolic father, the force of the binding law and the wholeness of the subjects constituted by the authority and name of this figure dissipate; as Jennifer Murray phrases it, “patriarchy, as the neutral law of the paternal metaphor, is already dead” (para 14). Murray identifies as a result of this ideological shift the appearance of the “fallible father” on the “margins of contemporary literature and film” who is “a figure of nostalgic yearning” (para 22).9 Such was the real, vanished Mr. Banks to his children. And such are the imagined fathers who dominate the landscape of the novels under study in Fictive Fathers. Nostalgia provides a persistent undercurrent to the familial response represented in many recent American novels when the “paternal metaphor” is deflated. It is useful, then, briefly to explore the affective structure and occasions for nostalgia captured within Svetlana Boym’s meditation on the condition. Starting from the term’s etymology, “nostos—return home, and algia—longing,” Boym writes that nostalgia “is a longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed,” that, fundamentally, it “is a sentiment of loss and displacement, but it is also a romance with one’s own fantasy” (xiii). Although Boym addresses nostalgia as a transhistorical phenomenon, she also views its historical motivations. It bespeaks “a longing for continuity in a fragmented world. Nostalgia inevitably reappears as a defense mechanism in a time of accelerated rhythms of life and historical upheavals,” which explains why she sees nostalgia as “coeval with modernity itself” (xiv). Boym finds that it links the person to the social group: “Unlike melancholia, which confines itself to the planes of individual consciousness, nostalgia is about the relationship between individual biography and the biography of groups or nations, between personal and collective memory” (xvi). It thus is a shared condition that places the individual within time, space, and collectivity—under the banner of the vivid, if fantasized, image of home. The notion of nostalgia thus links the social myth of the dominant fiction—according to which the symbolic Father’s law comfortably stakes out and protects the orderly home—with the individual performance of the father fantasy. This linkage closes the gap between the symbolic Father and real fathers acting in the world, but it also implies how the absence or impotence of a real father may reinstall the authority of the symbolic Father as a compensatory fantasy to fill the gap created by anxiety. Although the Lacanian model summarized here is largely ahistorical, operating on an abstract, symbolic level, it dovetails with and prompts a more material, historicized account in which home is under threat. In shifting the model toward the complex social world that novels present to us, characters who exhibit nostalgia toward the loss of the father figure betray their entrapment within the ideology of the Name-of-the-Father and the related impulse to

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“obliterate history [. . . ,] refusing to surrender to the irreversibility of time that plagues the human condition” (Boym xv). But these characters also point toward other ways of understanding and judging the father or the home over which he allegedly presides, which no longer exists or in fact never existed. Although the construction of fatherhood depends on the culturally embedded ideology of manhood more broadly, a detailed history of manhood in postwar America is beyond the scope of this study. Instead, I offer merely a glancing look at some of the crucial concerns and cultural moments that touch upon the image of American fathers, in the hope of providing a suggestive, if incomplete, explanatory framework. It is no secret that the diagnosis of a “crisis of masculinity” has for some time governed the analysis of white, heteronormative manhood in twentieth-century America, where “crisis” is the relevant term from the perspective of males witnessing the erosion of their hereditary powers. In the aptly titled essay “The Decline of Patriarchy,” for example, Barbara Ehrenreich announces the waning of “the traditional meaning of patriarchy: the rule of the father,” specifically, “the intimate power of men over women, a power which is historically exercised within the family by the male as breadwinner, property owner, or armed defender of women and children” (284).10 That traditional meaning has a long history in the United States—marked at its beginning by the abiding metaphors of the Founding Fathers and George Washington as the Father of the country.11 David Leverenz provides a superb historical overview of the literary representations of white manhood supporting the American patriarchal myth, tracing one origin to James Fenimore Cooper’s Natty Bumppo. As a man of violence and honor, he is “civilized and savage in one composite, self-divided transformation” (“Last Real Man” 29). The “social fiction” represented by Natty, “felt as a natural and universal law,” has the power to “[shame] individual deviance to protect the group, making men more fearful of losing the respect of other men than of losing their lives in battle” (25).12 Leverenz traces the shifts in this myth to its contemporary manifestations. Although “fathering and competition” continue to play a central role in “male self-construction” (40), he notes that in the modern capitalist economy, where the goal of upward mobility has replaced the conquering of the frontier, the traditional image of patriarchy “has given way to a more amorphous mixture of collaboration, rivalry, and role-playing [. . .] in the professionalized marketplace” (41). Leverenz observes, however, that the “myth of the Last Real Man in America,” which has always “fuse[d] idealizations of high civility with increasingly brutalized representations of lower-class violence,” has also always “subsumed an elegiac simplification of history, grieving for the passing of frontier self-reliance and patriarchal dominance” (45)—a myth that also, I would add, erases the violence of the fathers’ genocide against indigenous Americans. The myth furthermore

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partakes of a set of fixed qualities more honored in the breach than the observance; the narrative of ideal American manhood is inescapably fictive. Leverenz elsewhere explores the concept of American paternalism as “a normative management style, used to foster upward mobility as well as to control work forces” (Paternalism 1)—and, ultimately, to quell the anxiety attendant for white American males on the decline of their traditional patriarchal role. Reading the paternalist structures of corporate capitalism from the Civil War to the beginning of World War II, Leverenz takes aim at the discourse of gendered relations in the fiction that predates the subject matter of Fictive Fathers. He explores works that prepare for the “crisis” that begins to diagnose the fatherly figures of the mid-twentieth century, teasing out the contradictions within the paternalist story. Noting that “paternalism invokes idealized domestic patriarchy as its ground for social meaning,” he argues that, at the point when traditional domestic patriarchy was fading, “[p]utting a fatherly face on the power of money and mentoring reinvented the possibilities of paternal authority.” Leverenz points out by juxtaposition, however, “the irony that so many seemingly childlike idealizations of fatherhood reveal the father-figure’s inadequacy” (3). He observes not only that paternalism preserves the notion of honor by displacing it into the value of upward mobility (5), but also that this development enables the racialized and condescendingly class-based concepts of “uplift” and “reform” to take hold (7). Paternalism, that is, offers “a defensive, transitional cultural style to manage a profound cultural change,” within which new norms replace traditional “manliness,” as men find they must adapt to workplaces “that [minimize] their independence and individual authority” (13). Under the new norms of corporate capitalism, men displace their sense of inadequacy into revised goals and self-definitions in order to maintain some fiction of masculine potency. The norms of manhood continued to be contested and reformed following World War II, accompanying other cultural changes such as the ascendancy of the middle class in the postwar economy, the movement from cities into the suburbs, the rise of a consumer model of capitalism and social status, and the gradually changing roles for women. Exemplifying the latter, Tasha Oren finds within the example of television sitcoms that the popular representation of fathers in the 1950s starkly reconfigures the fatherly ideal into a man with domestic knowledge and the capacity to function within the domestic sphere (87). This representation, in such shows as Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver, displaces the “underlying fear that Dad is in fact feminized by his loss of control and centrality” once his position as the representative of the “male domain” (86) of the outside world is jeopardized. Oren argues that the sitcom, responding to how changing gender roles and the growth of women in the labor force threaten masculine power, at first acknowledges this weakening by burlesquing the father figure as a bumbler dependent on the mother figure (84–86), but then reinvents the father as a

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“warm, emotional, and understanding figure who chooses home-life over the workplace as his first priority,” in a “progressive image which blended the private and public spheres” (87). This revisionary image offered a means “to reinstitute the father figure as head-of-household” (88). The image of a bland, nice middle-class father, however, is a far cry from Natty Bumppo, pathfinder and deerslayer. Such shifting and contradictory fictional representations respond to a range of cultural pressures—especially insofar as the real experiences of men draw them increasingly away from the capacity to fulfill the liberal promise of individuality, autonomy, self-realization, self-ownership, and ownership of property that undergirds the father fantasy as well as, more commonly, the American Dream. Andrew Hoborek, for instance, examines how the sense among Americans, individually and collectively, of “constrained agency is best understood as a product of the transition from small-property ownership to white-collar employment as the basis of middle-class status”; he argues how some novels reveal that efforts within the professional managerial class “to rewrite individual and class agency in managerial terms give way to skepticism about organization as such and nostalgia for the putative autonomy of the property-owning old middle class” (8). Hoborek notes the irony of the inward turn within the middle-class response to the real shift in economic conditions: “Threatened with proletarianization through the loss of its property to big capital, the middle class translates this loss into narratives of individual dispossession that enforce its cultural dominance” (32). Robert Beuka takes on the related case of the doubleedged fictional representations of suburbia. He notes how writers respond to “a massive expansion of the middle class, a heightened valorization of the nuclear family and consequent reification of gender identities, a trend—both utopian and exclusionary in nature—toward cultural homogenization” (2). The suburb, Beuka finds, “reflects both an idealized image of middle-class life and specific cultural anxieties about the very elements of society that threaten this image” (7). Such threats include the heightened value of social conformity and the sense of entrapment created by fixed expectations for the performance of gender within the model of the heteronormative nuclear family. My sketch of the figure of the father in the American family—and indeed within the theoretical framing of the ideology supporting the dominant fiction of paternity—so far has largely been racially blind, however. Leverenz’s account of paternalism in the United States, for example, shows it as the province of white males (Paternalism 5–7). Such access to authority in America historically functions within an ideology that takes whiteness as both standard of value and invisible universal. Indeed, as Dana D. Nelson suggests, the ideology of “national manhood” in place since the constitutional era connects the “fraternal articulation of white manhood to civic identity,” thus comprising a “supraclass ideal for guaranteeing national unity” but also rendering white

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men unable “to identify socioeconomic inequality as structural rather than individual failure” (ix). The framing of inequality in such terms thus maintains the ideology of liberal selfhood that fortifies the father fantasy—any perceived failure to fulfill the fantasy is conceived as personal, not a structural social effect. The consequence of this construction of national manhood is to radically disorient white American males once they find themselves no longer universal or invisibly white, a self-perception forced upon them during the post-1960s era, with the rise of identity politics and multicultural awareness. The shifting norms for the performance of manhood in the United States since the middle of the twentieth century have coalesced to embody the father figure, to make him, as Sally Robinson puts it, a “marked man,” drawing the Father away from the abstract signifier of power into a mortal, timebound man, distinguished by race and class, and subject not only to the natural shocks that flesh is heir to, but also to being seen and therefore accessible. If, as Ellen G. Friedman suggests, following Yaeger and Kowaleski-Wallace, “[t]he father’s very inaccessibility is at the core of his power” (695), then for him to be made visible within various socioeconomic, racial, and familial contexts substantially diminishes his power. Robinson offers a brilliant analysis of the paradoxes of visibility for white men. She starts from the now commonplace understanding that cultural invisibility “is a necessary condition for the perpetuation of white and male dominance” because the invisible “escapes surveillance and regulation” when it becomes “the self-evident standard against which all differences are measured” (Marked Men 1). Robinson points out how in the “master narrative” of post-sixties America, “white men begin to be decentered” by movements toward gender equality as well as by “the increasing visibility of ethnic and racial diversity,” such that “the disenfranchised white man has become a symbol for the decline of the American way” (2). Robinson focuses on representations of “wounded white men” (6) to explore how the claim of a crisis in white masculinity, by making white men visible within a cultural landscape receptive to a politics of identity, performs the contradictory “cultural work of recentering white masculinity by decentering it.” White men, she argues, “claim a symbolic disenfranchisement, [to] compete with various others for cultural authority bestowed upon the authentically disempowered” (12, italics in original).13 Robinson stakes out the terrain of “the middle” as “the site of struggle over the meaning of normativity, in political and cultural terms,” asserting that the “Middle American is the great unmarked, the phantom figure against whom differences become visible,” whose “fortunes parallel the fortunes of dominant conceptualizations of American identity” (14–15). From the perspective of Robinson’s analysis of American manhood, it becomes no surprise that the novels representing fatherly failures and metaphoric absences that draw my attention in Fictive Fathers put middle-class white fathers at the contested center of their damaged families.

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According to this limited survey of American masculinity, the apparent deflation of the heteronormative white male’s position in American culture through the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, like the excavation of the myths buried within the dominant fiction that centered the father in the social world, seems highly overdetermined. And that is the case even if, contradictorily, the dominance of white men and the father fantasy itself both still seem very much alive, retaining their effective and symbolic power within ongoing cultural relations, including the spheres of politics, business, and the family. I suggest that some novelists have chosen to depict the literal or figurative absence of the father figure to probe just these contradictions. The figure of absence builds on such historical precedents as the mass conscription of men during World War II that removed them from their homes, as well as the postwar job market that kept them away for much of each work day and the whole of the work week—in a kind of “routine paternal absence” that Mike Chopra-Gant sees as especially influential in the “development of young men’s identities” (8). But the writers under study in Fictive Fathers recover the strangeness from routine, probing the relation of absence to the shifts in the father image, even as they complicate just who—beyond young men—may suffer the consequences of absence. Still, some critics have identified revisionary interpretive strategies for understanding and even extolling the alteration of the father image, distinct from the move among white males to rewrite their identities as victims or to occupy culturally marginalized positions. Friedman, for example, puts a politically celebratory feminist spin on the dethroned Father. Friedman examines a selection of late twentieth-century novels that she usefully categorizes as “postpatriarchal fiction,” with special attention to their endings. She discovers with enthusiasm that, when the fathers become embodied, exposed, and vulnerable, making the leap from the sacred and untouchable to the mundane [. . . the] result of such embodiment and exposure is that his children are able to move on without him—having registered only an ordinary, rather than an unrecoupable, loss, one that usually allows them a place within or at least reconciliation with the daily (697). Friedman concludes that the “quest” of the children in the postpatriarchal novel is not “for origins and the (past) law that justifies the present” but to “make peace with the present and make way for the future” (697). Friedman is writing from a point of view that welcomes the father’s impotence as preparing for “the weakening of the oedipal stranglehold” (696), a narrative she finds “associated with racism, sexism, abandonment, and a paralyzing nostalgia for the oedipal father.” Indeed, Friedman claims that “[t]he naming of postpatriarchal fiction is an optimistic, generative move” (707), clearing the path for new configurations of family and narrative trajectories.

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Among the more compelling compensatory arguments for the condition of the postpatriarchal father, incorporating him not as a figure of absence but as a reinvented player in a redefined landscape, is that proposed by Kathy Knapp. Knapp defines her chronological and geographical frame in terms of a subgenre, the “post-9/11 suburban male midlife crisis novel” (xxxiii), within which she finds, as I do in the post-9/11 texts discussed in Chapter 7, “the nostalgic impulse for order and male authority” (xii). Knapp reads within fictional representations of “an anxious everyday” appearing after 9/11 the existential national implications of the “apparent decline of the United States’ economic, geopolitical, and moral authority.” Her central insight is to find the genre to “advance an aesthetic of contingency” (xiii).14 Observing that “the new suburban novel takes its white male protagonist to task for upholding the neoliberal values of individualism, private property ownership, and upward mobility that [. . .] have both supported and masked white male privilege” (xv), Knapp claims succinctly that “the post-9/11 suburban everyman demonstrates how to live with lack by being so obviously lacking, and effectively counters the narrative of American exceptionalism by being so emphatically unexceptional” (xvii). She discerns an unprecedented accommodation to straitened circumstances among novels charting the decline of both the middle class and the Middle American man, finding that in embracing the aesthetic of contingency, the novels move in a positive direction by devaluing liberal individualism in favor of connectedness (xxx), even though they may also place a bleak, nostalgic emphasis on what has been lost. Although in keeping with Knapp’s thesis, the American male’s accommodation of his diminishment is discernible among some of the novels discussed in the following chapters, I would still argue that at some level loss remains immitigable, and it is with the affective experience of loss that my exploration of postwar American fiction is preoccupied. The analyses I have reviewed in this introduction go a long way toward framing and explaining the material and ideological condition of the father figures I explore in Fictive Fathers. That said, I add three disclaimers. First, since most of the texts under study here maintain the invisibility of normative whiteness, providing little or no representational context of character or situation to enable whiteness to become visible, these analyses must generally follow suit until the final chapter. Second, the postpatriarchal condition that is the subject matter of this book is at once as conceptually and practically factual and fictive as the father fantasy itself. The postpatriarchal is an artifact of perception and storytelling, and not a journalistic report from the front where the real relations of gendered power are practiced; the abuses of actual American men assuming the rights of patriarchal excess continue, if not unabated, as the #MeToo movement suggests, for example, then still in the corridors of economic, political, and social power. Third, as is surely obvious, I focus on the father/child relationship and not more generally on

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the family, especially insofar as I do not take up the equally fundamental construction of motherhood or the configuration of parenting within a heteronormative model. These latter concerns are of course essential to consideration of family dynamics but are beyond the scope of this study and, especially regarding maternity, have been explored in detail by others more expert than I. Instead, I start from the fact and experience of loss triggered by the father within the normative group of the white middle-class family. My aim is to extend the analysis of fictive fathers to the reciprocal consideration of the children whose lives, like my friend Sharon’s, are haunted by the pressures upon and anxieties among fathers displaced from the security of the dominant fiction. Unlike Friedman, I do not find among the novels considered in these pages that the exposure and loss of the father is “ordinary” and “recoupable” for those left behind, let alone for the fathers themselves. Instead, my contribution to the portrait of the postpatriarchal father is to take in, where possible, the perspectives of both father and children, exploring the ambivalences from both sides regarding the decline of the patriarch’s authority and the erasure of the order promised by the father’s hold over the social law prescribed by the dominant fiction. The potential for ideological, psychological, social, and at times formal contradictions becomes notable when the novels examined in the following pages overtly represent ambivalence toward shifts in the balance of power within the family configuration. The political ramifications are especially significant when, however much a text might seem to acknowledge that the passing of power from the patriarchal figure is socially just and ethically compelled, the sense of regret and loss persists. These father figures poignantly exemplify Barthelme’s chiastic pronouncement: “Dead but still with us, still with us, but dead” (3).

Storytelling after the Father I argue that the proliferation of images of impotent and failed fathers in recent fiction reveals something unusually usual, so to speak, outlining and illuminating a historical particularity—a reflection among a surprising number of very different writers that the paternal figure in America has reached a moment of cultural crisis. It would be foolish, however, to suggest that the narrative of paternal absence is in any way new. Roland Barthes’s rhetorical questions in 1975—“If there is no longer a Father, why tell stories? [. . . ] Isn’t storytelling always a way of searching for one’s origin, speaking one’s conflicts with the Law, entering into the dialectic of tenderness and hatred?” (47)—presume a history of storytelling dependent upon the father’s presence, or, even more, the seeking after it, as the motive for narrative. One need look no further than The Odyssey, as Robert Con Davis does, to define

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the territory. Davis observes that Telémakhos “cannot know his origin absolutely, yet he believes that wisdom resides in possessing the knowledge of origins connected with fatherhood,” and that “the father’s absence creates a predicament wherein a son must discover wisdom within the limitations of his own efforts” (5). And the literal absence of the father of course also structures the agonies of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, whose sense of order at every level—psychological, social, national, natural, metaphysical, religious— is fundamentally disrupted by the puncturing of the dominant fiction performed by Claudius’s treachery against King Hamlet. Closer to home, within the context of twentieth-century American fiction, one might look to the modernists, such as Hemingway and Faulkner, who in a sense may be said to have “killed” the fathers in figurative oedipal acts that expose the fathers’ powerlessness. Nick Adams’s father in “Indian Camp” (1925), for example, deludes himself about his prowess as a doctor at just the moment that he has failed not only to prevent the suicide of the man whose wife screams horribly while giving birth, but also to preserve Nick’s innocence by protecting him from the knowledge of birth, death, and despair. The best he can do is perform a Hemingwayesque, stoic shrug: asked by his young son, “ ‘Is dying hard, Daddy?’ ” his reply is simply, “ ‘No, I think it’s pretty easy, Nick. It all depends’ ” (In Our Time 19). Likewise, Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises (1926) represents in painfully embodied terms the wounded white male to whom Sally Robinson refers. In Jake’s castration, Hemingway presents a man incapable even of pretending to the position of genealogical power and authority granted by the dominant fiction to the symbolic father. But Hemingway never overtly names the castration in the text. The suppression of the signifier of Jake’s wound is an index to the anxiety created by such lack within the ideologies framing the lives of Hemingway’s characters. Hemingway can manage Jake’s literal and figurative impotence, on view in relation to Brett Ashley, only by tonally displacing it into his characteristically bitter, stoic, self-defeating, and selfdeflecting irony: “Undressing,” Jake narrates, “I looked at myself in the mirror [. . .] Of all the ways to be wounded. I suppose it was funny” (Sun Also Rises 38). One supposes that it is anything but funny to Jake, or Hemingway, or the men of his generation—or of any other generation, for that matter. Faulkner takes on the deflation and devastation of the mythic image of patriarchal masculinity that dominated the nineteenth-century world of the South, which both occupies and precedes the familial conditions he writes about. In numerous novels, Faulkner represents the devolutionary condition of fathers incapable of living up to the symbolic social and psychological authority of the law of the father, fracturing families and leaving offspring adrift. In The Sound and the Fury (1929), for example, Mr. Compson’s ineffectuality—his inability to support his family materially or emotionally, or to keep them whole as a family—becomes all too plain in his figurative

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escape into drink and his nihilistic advice to his son Quentin. Quentin, for his part, eventually commits suicide because he sees no way to reconcile human desire with the moribund constraints of the Southern father’s laws and with his own desperation to make meaningfulness out of lack. He reveals his despair in his futile fantasy of committing incest with his sister Caddy, as if, by a backwards logic, breaking the taboo central to the proscriptions of the Father will prove the existence and value of the Father’s law—and thus confirm the authority of some Father. In Absalom, Absalom! (1936), Faulkner takes on the central narrative of the Name-of-the-Father within Thomas Sutpen’s ruthless ambition to found a dynasty. Sutpen shapes his obsession according to the terms of dying and misconstrued Southern values, only to be doomed by the very histories of the land, especially its sins with regard to class and racial differences, as well as the fictions of family he has never understood. Faulkner finds perhaps his starkest allegorical image for the horrors of the empty father fantasy in the blind man with “yellow clots for eyes” (102) to whom Temple Drake hysterically appeals for help, hallucinating him as a surrogate father figure when she is about to be raped by Popeye in Sanctuary (1931). Faulkner’s pitiless irony is that this man’s grotesquely embodied blindness is no worse than the moral and psychological blindness of Temple’s real paterfamilias, Judge Drake, whose inability to either understand her agony or protect her from it highlights how the “judge” is wholly unequal to the law. Whereas Faulkner’s violent grotesquerie in Sanctuary tends toward bitterly tragic ironies, Donald Barthelme’s in The Dead Father (1975) partakes of the fantastical exaggerations of satiric fabulation. A figure of appetite, violence, narcissism, thick-wittedness, and empty power, who speaks at times with a vatic incoherence seemingly modeled on Beckett’s Lucky in Waiting for Godot (1954), Barthelme’s Dead Father is an embodied signifier of the moribund patriarchy. Barthelme’s antic reading of the dominant fiction and its puncturing appears in the narrative premise: a group of “melancholy” (Dead Father 91) disciples, including his irreverent children, drags the monstrously huge father’s peculiarly sentient corpse across the landscape—literally lugging the cultural baggage of the patriarchy across time and space. The Dead Father is deceived that he is pursuing the Golden Fleece, the ancient symbol of authority and kingship, while in fact he is being hauled to his burying place. In keeping with his embodiment of ideology, the Dead Father is notably both dead and not-dead. The figure of the Dead Father gathers up into itself the many characteristics of the father fantasy. He regulates the behavior of his children, for example, making them abject, asserting them as his property, and noting that, as part of the “natural order,” he “had to devour them, hundreds, thousands” (18). Barthelme repeatedly deflates the image of paternal power, in part by exposing the Dead Father’s obliviousness to his own impotence. Although his daughter describes his penis as “unseemly. Ugly” (79), the Dead Father

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himself, after a Biblical display of smiting and slaying “every living thing within his reach” (53)—which turns out to include only such pitiful creatures as birds and an iguana—admires his sword, with an obvious wink at its phallic resonances: “See how long it is, the Dead Father said, and how limber” (54). His son, Thomas, must finally quell him by trickery, taking away his passport (his identity as the Name-of-the-Father, one might say) and then his (phallic) keys, until the Father reaches his end. He finds no Fleece (174) but just the hole in the ground into which he must climb, to be bulldozed under (177). The novel ends abruptly at the one-word sentence, “Bulldozers” (177), as at an existential impasse. Barthelme’s cynical narrative expresses no feeling of loss in the diminishment and burial of this figure of patriarchal authority—except perhaps by implication, insofar as there is no story to move beyond the burial, no image of order or fantasy of power to replace what has vanished—and no promise that the order of the father has indeed vanished. Teresa L. Ebert insightfully argues for how, in Thomas’s removal of the Dead Father, Barthelme demonstrates the impossibility of circumventing the patriarchal system: The crisis for the son then is [. . .] that he acquires what limited power and subjectivity he has only through his surrogacy to the father/patriarchal authority. Thus to overturn, to murder the Father/patriarchy is to destroy the very order that provides him his place. The son, in other words, is always deeply implicated in and dependent on the very patriarchal order he struggles against (80).15 Once the Dead Father subsides into his grave, what story remains to be told—except the very story of the father, dead and alive? And so we keep trying to tell the story. I conclude this section of the introduction with a brief digression from matters of fictional representation to take up two memoirs from the long postwar period with which the remainder of Fictive Fathers is concerned. Both focus on the loss of the father, but in very different ways. The memoirs bracket the matter of fatherhood with, at one end, an argument for what is right with the father— and the fantasy inscribing his position—and therefore, from a son’s perspective, worth preserving; and with, at the other end, evidence of what is wrong with the enactment of fatherhood within a system of meaning and subjectivity so dependent on his presence. Philip Roth’s deeply affecting Patrimony (1991) follows Roth’s relationship with his father, Herman, as Herman faces the diagnosis of his fatal brain tumor and his final months, as his capacities diminish. Roth meditates on the meaning of his father’s imminent vanishing from the world and on his debt to this vigorous, blunt, stubborn, opinionated, comparatively unschooled but absolutely upright man. The deep affection Roth exhibits for his father in this nonfiction work likely flouted the expectations of many

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readers who, on the basis of Roth’s previous novels, especially Portnoy’s Complaint (1969) and the books about his writerly alter-ego, Nathan Zuckerman, inferred an autobiographical basis to the fiction’s repeated portraits of oedipal anguish and anger. To the contrary, the memoir shows a son simply trying to grasp what his father has meant to him, including his fundamental presence as a vulnerable body, and its most memorable scene details the moment when the son at last understands. Following a biopsy, Herman suffers from days of constipation and then suddenly is overtaken in Philip’s bathroom, uncontrollably defecating all over himself and the room. Philip gently, laboriously cleans and consoles his humiliated father and scrubs the bathroom, even to getting down on hands and knees to use a toothbrush on the floor. He writes, “I thought I couldn’t have asked anything more for myself before he died—this [. . .] was right and as it should be. You clean up your father’s shit because it has to be cleaned up, but in the aftermath of cleaning it up, everything that’s there to feel is felt as it never was before,” and he concludes, “So that was the patrimony” (Patrimony 175–76, italics in original). That is, Roth’s anticipatory sense of loss, his knowledge of his father’s imminent absence, allows him to cherish all that his father has meant to him—the “shit” along with the love, the material along with the psychology and the belief systems. But it also, after his father has died, causes him to feel the anxiety and disorientation revealed within a nightmare in which his father accuses him of dressing his corpse in the wrong clothes for burial. Surprisingly, but without regret for any failures but his own, the son remains gladly beholden to the father’s authority, even after death. Paul Auster’s representation of his psychologically absent father, however, is far more mixed in his memoir, The Invention of Solitude (1982), a booklength meditation on fatherhood from multiple perspectives. Beginning his narrative with his father’s death, Auster claims that “[e]ven before his death he had been absent” (Invention 6). He attempts to explain his father’s evasive personality—his tendency to be “an invisible man” (7)—both metaphysically, resulting from a kind of narcissism that made “the domain of the other [. . .] unreal to him” (15), and historically, in that he was likely traumatized by a murder within his family when he was a child, a story the memoir uncovers. When Auster shifts from writing about the immediacy of his father’s death and generalizations about his father’s personality into narrating his own past, his first sentence is “Earliest memory: his absence” (20); he elaborates: “From the very beginning, it seems, I was looking for my father. [. . .] It was not that I felt he disliked me. It was just that he seemed distracted, unable to look in my direction. And more than anything else, I wanted him to take notice of me” (21).16 Auster thereby names the matter of recognition as central to the father/child relationship constructed by the dominant fiction. He remains throughout the memoir alternately obsessed, fascinated, and deeply troubled by what it means to be a father. As a result,

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he acts as a sleuth into his father’s past, considers with much anguish and insight his relationship to his own son and to the father-surrogates he has over time sought out, in literature and in the flesh, and weighs, inconclusively, the effects of fathers and their absences on writing and its connection to the real world. Faced with enduring and unendurable lack, Auster finds consolation only in memory. Even as he acknowledges, “It is a lost world [. . . that] will be lost forever” (166), he chooses as the final word of the book, “Remember” (172). This—the command to remember the father, however fraught the memories—is arguably the primary, even instinctive, compulsion shared among the writers whose novels Fictive Fathers takes up.

The Organization of the Book I do not pretend to offer an exhaustive analysis of novels touching on the representation of postpatriarchal, postwar American fatherhood and its repercussions. I have tried, however, to select examples portraying a range of perspectives within thematically coherent, mutually illuminating groups of texts. I begin in Chapter  2 by staking out the problem of the missing father by way of two writers, John Irving and Jonathan Franzen, whose publication dates roughly frame my argument historically, from the late 1960s to the early 2000s. After briefly surveying some of Irving’s early novels, from Setting Free the Bears (1968) to A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989), which engage their protagonists in quests for a missing father, the chapter concentrates on The World According to Garp (1978). Garp performs both roles of abandoned son and impotent father and struggles, within Irving’s metafictional narrative structure, to gain a storyteller’s authority over the narrative of his life—to master the word that could master his world. I then turn to Franzen’s The Corrections (2001), which presents a patriarchal figure devastated by dementia. The novel’s form, circulating among the other family members, demonstrates how the father’s disintegration, the obverse of a hysterical claim to authority, throws his children and wife into chaotic, abject states from which they seek various “corrections” to his legacies. Chapter  3 takes up four writers who, in a realist mode, play out the generational conflicts between fathers and their children within white, middle-class America. Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres (1991) sets out the chapter’s terms according to which the traditional power of the patriarch causes familial discord, deforming the family. Smiley shows how the patriarchal system is tied to land ownership in her rural setting in Iowa. As in The Corrections, the family structure dissipates when the father loses his rational capacities, and the novel allegorizes related socioeconomic dislocations in mid-century American culture. Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982) shifts the tragic realism of Smiley’s novel into

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the mode of realist domestic comedy, centered on economics in middle-class Baltimore. Tyler begins the novel with a mother’s dying and a father’s abandonment of his family and bookends it with his anti-climactic return for her funeral. The struggles of the mother and children to fill the father’s absence dominate the novel’s middle as they seek, by configuring within their own identities notions of masculinity, domesticity, and nurturance, to reinvent a social and familial order that the father never, in fact, provided. Next, exploring three short novels from Philip Roth’s late “Nemeses” tetralogy, the chapter considers a father’s overt failures in Everyman (2006) and continues with Indignation (2008), set during the Korean War, in which a father’s obsessive but impotent desire to protect his son becomes so confining as to drive the son to the very catastrophe the father hoped to avoid. The discussion of Roth finishes with Nemesis (2010), set during the 1940s polio epidemic, during which a young man who grows up fatherless constructs impossible expectations for his own performance of manliness. The chapter returns to Iowa with Robinson’s trilogy, reading the novels not through her avowed Christianity, according to which the transcendental signified is God the Father, but through the eroded authority of historical fathers, embedded in material circumstances. In Gilead (2004), an elderly, ailing minister writes a confession of sorts to his young son in anticipation of his own absence and inability to provide instruction and protection. Home (2008) presents another infirm paterfamilias, also a minister, whose prodigal son, suffering under the burden of expectations promoted by a patriarchal religious tradition, dwells in a “home” that is for him only a place of exile and grief, and reproduces his father’s symbolic absence into the next generation. Finally, Lila (2014) shifts ground, posing subplots about paternal absence and patricide against a central narrative of redefined matrilineage. Fictive Fathers then explores the perspectives of abandoned daughters and abandoned sons in Chapters  4 and 5, respectively. Chapter  4 begins with a brief framing discussion of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides (1993), in which a father who loves his five daughters is so unperceptive as to their anxieties and the pressures upon their sense of agency that he is impotent to avert their suicides. The chapter then juxtaposes analysis of two novels that trace the psychological conditions obtaining within a daughter’s quest for her missing father. Mona Simpson’s aptly titled The Lost Father (1992) engages the protagonist-narrator in an obsessive, self-destructive search that is at once inward, geographical, and culturally plural, as she confronts her hybrid identity. In Simpson’s novel, the father’s absence constructs the narrator’s desire as she seeks recognition and reparation only to find that the mythic object of the quest does not merit the energy expended on him. Simpson’s realist mode of fiction is complemented by Carole Maso’s fragmented, largely metafictional The Art Lover (1990), a study of grief that interweaves the stories of two families around a parallel story of a

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writer-narrator, adding a narrative layer that invites an autobiographical reading. Maso frames the trauma narrative with two lost fathers—one dead, the other disappeared—to focus on the daughters who are left behind to mourn or rage. The consideration of sons who are abandoned by their fathers turns in Chapter  5 toward poststructuralist critique of the dominant fiction. Paul Auster’s preoccupation with the trauma of unknown origins, motivated by the experience with his own father discussed earlier, often underwrites his exploration of unstable selfhood. Typically, the manner in which the father constructs the son’s identity by either his presence or absence is selfconsciously both mediated by and demonstrated in the son’s use of language. The chapter explores City of Glass (1985), from The New York Trilogy (1990), for its presentation of a father/son relationship inextricable from the ideological authority of patriarchal language; Moon Palace (1989) for its quest narrative of a son seeking a father among the signs dotting the American landscape; and Mr. Vertigo (1994), for its presentation of paternal surrogacy within a mode of magical realism. In Motherless Brooklyn (1999), Jonathan Lethem embeds a quest narrative within the genre of the hard-boiled detective story to focus on the murder of another surrogate father figure. The mystery’s clues turn on language, drawing especially on the narrator-protagonist’s Tourette’s syndrome, which Lethem uses as an analogue for the deconstruction of the father’s language at the foundation of the symbolic order. In Chapters  6 and 7, the study’s focus moves beyond the immediate family into a larger national context in order to address fathers operating under the stress of catastrophe. Chapter  6 explores environmental apocalypse, first in Don DeLillo’s satiric take on Jack Gladney’s multifaceted impotence as father, husband, and scholar in White Noise (1985). Gladney’s unreliable first-person narration exposes his arrogant self-delusions regarding his intellectual power as he is tested against the environmental disaster of an “airborne toxic event.” DeLillo deconstructs the capitalist consumer ethos and class order to which Gladney is unwittingly in thrall. The distancing postmodernist satire of White Noise counterposes the relentless realist tragedy of McCarthy’s dystopian novel, The Road (2006), a literal “road novel” with none of the levity of the picaresque to which it alludes. Whereas DeLillo’s novel shows the impotent father deflected from meaningfulness by the significations of modern life, McCarthy shows a father whose impotence is wholly earthbound and practical. Faced with a violent, unforgiving dystopia made uninhabitable by an environmental catastrophe, the resourceful father struggles to protect his son according to the most basic needs of food, shelter, and warmth. Ironically, McCarthy’s nihilistic critique of the failed order of patriarchy that caused the disaster nearly, by the end, reinstates the myth of paternal power. Chapter  7 shifts to the representation of political forms of disaster, beginning with Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (2004). Taken by

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some readers as an allegory for 9/11, and later as an uncanny prophecy of the Trump era, the novel presents a counterfactual history of the United States during the years from 1940 to 1942 as it exists under a protectionist, fascistic government that interns Jews as a response to World War II. The father figure appears embattled but heroic in Roth’s nostalgic imagination as he attempts to protect his family, and Roth juxtaposes him to a weak father who leaves his son vulnerable to historical forces. In contrast, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005) refers directly to the 9/11 tragedy shortly after it has occurred, in the voice of a boy whose father perished in the Twin Towers and whose narrative represents his attempts, like those of his grandfather before him, to confront the static condition of traumatic loss and longing. Like Roth and McCarthy, Foer backs away from the implications of the paternal failures he represents, restoring the order of the patriarchal function within a newly scripted family configuration. Claire Messud’s satiric novel of manners, The Emperor’s Children (2006), contrasts the sentimental tragedies of these two novels. The Emperor’s Children presents the 9/11 attack as the narrative’s destination and an allegorical figure for the unmasking Messud performs of her central fatherly figure, who, like DeLillo’s Gladney, is stripped of familial and social authority when his intellectual pretensions are exposed. Messud not only uncovers the impotence of the patriarchal figure and the cultural system on which his alleged power depends, but she also exposes the weakness and shallowness of the “children” who have subscribed to his authority. The concluding chapter extends the argument to novels representing a specific point in American history, the Vietnam War. I take this as a pivotal cultural moment that both provoked and exposed the development toward a postpatriarchal society when the masculinist ideology that supported the US war in Vietnam was undermined. Bobbie Ann Mason’s In Country (1985), published a decade after the war concluded, focuses, like Simpson’s novel, on a daughter’s quest for knowledge of an unknown father, in this case, killed in Vietnam. Mason shows the daughter’s unsuccessful attempt to invest her paternity with mythic power by way of a misguided fantasy, but then reverses that blunt failure, offering a closing reconciliation by way of a fetish substitute for the missing father. By contrast, the darker ironies and structural complexities of Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods (1994) move not toward resolution but toward paternal absences expressed as unsolvable textual riddles. O’Brien traces the psychological condition and behavior of a Vietnam veteran who participates in the My Lai massacre to an unforgiving father who dies before the son can reconcile with or be acknowledged by him. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (2015) rounds out and extends the book’s argument, providing a coda as it moves beyond the North American context to take in alternative cultural perspectives not only on the postpatriarchal condition but also on the very history of the United States. The unnamed narrator is the son of a French missionary in

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Vietnam and a Vietnamese woman he has raped; the father never acknowledges the paternity of his illegitimate son because of the son’s hybrid identity. Nguyen takes aim at the problems of representation and recognition at the core of the violence perpetrated against the Vietnamese—and, by extension, against any children of American society who, by virtue of race, class, gender, or other differences, do not enjoy a fullness of subjectivity within the white, middle-class, patriarchal American system that is the subject of this book. Nguyen’s many parodic allusions to works of American, or more broadly Western, culture, high, low, and middlebrow, perform a displaced oedipal patricide. Nguyen’s revenge against misrepresentation and lack of recognition escapes the cycle of mourning and nostalgia witnessed in the previous novels. The Sympathizer thereby, at last, if perhaps not for good, buries the Dead Father.

2 Anxieties of Influence and the Decline of the Patriarch

The novels in John Irving’s early career are uniquely preoccupied with fathers— absent fathers, unknown fathers, surrogate fathers—directly highlighting the effects of fathers’ absences on their sons more than any other writer in this study except, perhaps, Paul Auster.1 As a novelist whose work appeared among the earliest of the postwar writers under consideration in this study, Irving seems a fit subject to explore first, especially insofar as he anticipates features of postpatriarchal fatherhood that are taken up variously by the writers who followed him.2 Irving began publishing in the 1960s, and the novel on which the chapter will mainly focus, The World According to Garp (1978), takes place mostly during its contemporaneous moment. The “present” of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (2001) is likewise situated largely within its period of publication. Unlike Irving, however, Franzen shows in painful detail not the absence of the father as such but his descent from dominion, while also conjuring the many ways in which the father’s obsolescent authority inhibits the identities of his family members even while he is in the process of vacating the position of power. The two writers’ work thus provides a rough historical and thematic framing for the representation of fathers in the long postwar period. Given their many divergences of temperament and subject matter, Irving and Franzen may seem rather strange bedfellows to place in a chapter. Precisely, however, because they differ so much in their modes and means yet trace similar trajectories in their fiction toward familial and individual dysfunction, they usefully bracket the scene within American middle-class culture responding to a postpatriarchal practice of fatherhood.

John Irving’s Family Romances— The World According to Garp Irving’s novel The Hotel New Hampshire (1981) begins with a storytelling father, telling “Father’s story” (Irving, Hotel 2). He is the origin of story and 25

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the origin of the children who will populate the story, and his word is intimately known: “That was the line Father usually began with—the line he began with the first time I remember being told the story” (4). Irving’s opening is self-conscious in its reference to how stories are told and its sentimental deference to the father, the familial authority—an uppercase Father—who remains nameless for several pages because, the narrator assumes, he is already as well known as his stories. Yet the homage to the father’s word in The Hotel New Hampshire disguises the more complicated, ambivalent perspective on fatherhood that develops across a number of Irving’s earlier novels. In response both to present and absent fathers, his characters register anxiety over how fathers wield authority over the identity and the discourse of their sons. This anxiety becomes most visible in The World According to Garp. Irving presents the experience of his protagonist, Garp, in terms of his ability to write fiction from the positions of both son and father, literalizing the inscription of subjectivity along patrilineal lines. Irving’s angle is to show how, when Garp attempts to write himself out of trauma, he instead replicates the violence of his paternal origins and his own failures as a father.3 Because Irving invokes the process of writing as an allegory for the psychological condition he presents in Garp, the novel may be seen usefully in the context of the theory of literary genealogy Harold Bloom laid out in The Anxiety of Influence (1973) to provide an account of literary history. I suggest this framing advisedly. Garp’s progenitor is not a literary father as such, but Irving has him exert a mythic power over his son’s imagination— with the result that Garp ultimately provides an exception that proves Bloom’s rule about authorship. Bloom argues that “Poetic history [. . . is] indistinguishable from poetic influence, since strong poets make that history by misreading one another, so as to clear imaginative space for themselves” (Bloom 5). Bloom’s idea of “misreading” translates into the terms of literary history the filial relations between writers and their precursors. Bloom patterns these relations on the oedipal model Freud described as the “family romance” (Bloom 8), the narrative of psychological development in which a child fantasizes replacing his parents with others of higher social standing. The family romance plot opens up central questions of paternity and how children—and, by extension, their texts—may derive identities from their origins. In literary terms, to misread implies that one is both compelled toward the precursor’s texts and compelled to change them—to misinterpret, distort, or revise (30)—so as to forge one’s own artistic identity. Irving, however, emphasizes the ongoing ambivalence and anxiety operating on the writer whose authority is burdened by his precursor. In Garp, Irving depicts a son who is incapable of “misreading” the father or clearing imaginative space for himself. Rather, he is doomed to repeat the father’s story. To prepare for how Irving arrives at the metafictional interplay that structures Garp into a story about a son (and father) struggling to tell his

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own story, it is useful to explore first how a few of his novels, appearing both before and after Garp, uncover a range of problems posed within Irving’s fictional universe by fathers, especially absent and unknown fathers.4 As early as Setting Free the Bears (1968), his first novel, Irving devoted a significant portion of the narrative to his protagonist, Siggy’s, musings about where and whom he came from. Siggy’s “Notebook,” for example, attempts to reconstruct his “pre-history” (Irving, Setting Free 167)—the story of his parents’ meeting, marrying, and conceiving him, in the context of midcentury eastern European historical events. Siggy frames the story of his origins by appealing to the influence of two father figures. His symbolic father is the heroic Zahn Glanz, his mother’s first lover, who disappears in the Anschluss; Siggy writes: “I wouldn’t want to say [. . .] that I’ve condemned my mother for not letting Zahn Glanz father me. Because even if it wasn’t carried in the genes, something of Zahn Glanz certainly got into me” (172). While “Glanz” aptly denotes brightness in German, the phallic pun in English—glans—could hardly have escaped Irving in naming this figure of masculine potency. Siggy yearns for this origin, for the elusive sign of masculine power in the world to approve the renegade identity he pursues. Indeed, in accord with the notion that invisibility confers power, the surrogate father’s retreat into legend may give him more authority than his presence would have done. Siggy presents his biological father, Vratno Javotnik, as a stark contrast, however, with respect to the aspirational image of postwar masculinity. Javotnik is a circumspect intellectual, and passive—a linguist who accomplishes his “sly survival” (175) in the war rather than making heroic gestures. According to the Freudian plot of the family romance, Zahn Glanz is Siggy’s romance of a replacement father. Siggy knows his father’s name and biography, however inadequate he sees his father to have been. Elsewhere, however, Irving tests his protagonists by depriving them of knowledge of their paternity even when he finally undercuts the importance of such knowledge. Central, for example, to A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989) is both the mystery of John Wheelwright’s natural father and Irving’s refusal to present this gap as the novel’s important secret. Like Garp’s mother, Jenny Fields, in The World According to Garp, Tabby Wheelwright conceives her son covertly, telling no one, including her son, his father’s name before she dies unexpectedly. John Wheelwright’s passivity regarding his father’s identity epitomizes his character; his lack of the fundamental desire that produces the family romance is as telling in its absence as is the active desire of Irving’s other lost sons. John must finally be prodded by Owen Meany’s voice from beyond the grave to recognize his father. His ambivalence is key in the design of the narrative. Although the “discovery” appears conventionally, toward the end of the novel, it is stripped of drama, of authority over the events of the narrative, and of the power to illuminate identity, when John is merely disappointed to find that the ineffectual Reverend Lewis Merrill is his father (Irving, Owen Meany

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480). He narrates his discovery only because the episode represents a miracle to him: he believes he hears Rev. Merrill speaking in Owen’s voice to reveal himself as John’s father. John’s sole interest is displaced from paternal authority into what he interprets as divine authority—from the father to the Father. The secular knowledge is in itself no endpoint for him. Irving thereby undercuts the disclosure of earthly origins as among the aims of his narrative. Nevertheless, A Prayer for Owen Meany gives the matter of paternal authority symbolic force because Irving displaces the source of authority absolutely and metaphysically. John opens his narration by claiming he will tell a conversion story: he is “doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice [. . .] because he is the reason I believe in God” (13). In figuring the father in terms of transcendent Fatherly authority, the novel conflates contradictory perspectives on paternity into a single quest. John becomes the disciple for Owen, who interprets his precognitive experiences to mean that he has been “chosen”: in the capital letters that mark his “wrecked voice,” he tells John that “GOD HAS TAKEN YOUR MOTHER. MY HANDS WERE THE INSTRUMENT. GOD HAS TAKEN MY HANDS. I AM GOD’S INSTRUMENT” (86). Owen accepts his role fatalistically, specifically the final, heroic act of instrumentality he foresees, of saving a roomful of children from a grenade. Calling it faith, he accepts the Father’s delineation of his identity as he perceives it and willingly gives up his hands to his God. John, however, enacts an oedipal drama in relation to the story he vicariously lives through Owen. God is for him the Father who must be either absent or malevolent, since He has created a violent world, leaving humans to their capacity for corruption and self-destruction. Only through Owen’s self-sacrifice—confirming to John the miracle of Owen’s foresight— does John “find” the Father. But Irving makes John’s an ambiguous discovery, since he is left adrift, emotionally sterile and sexually neutered. His recovery of spiritual origin grants him no power in the worlds of matter or faith as the close to his narrative quest. This Father might as well be dead, for all that the “miracle” accomplishes. Like A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Cider House Rules (1985) also features the conspicuous absence of a father. Homer Wells represents the plight of orphans who lack the social identity conferred by parents, but the desire for knowledge in this narrative is displaced toward the maternal alone; in an orphanage where women come and go, unaccompanied by men, it is the mother as origin about whom Homer muses. The identity of Homer’s father remains a gap in the narrative—with no regret on Homer’s part— and fatherhood as performed in the novel is typically problematic.5 Senior Worthington, paterfamilias of the Edenic apple orchard, is rendered powerless by Alzheimer’s disease until he becomes literally absent in death. By contrast, Mr. Rose makes his fatherly authority violently, traumatically objectifying when he rapes and impregnates his own daughter. Ray Kendall, idealized as a loving father and mechanical wizard, sinks into feeble silence

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in the face of his daughter’s deceptions with Homer. Among natural fathers, then, little lies between impotence and rapaciousness, except in Homer Wells himself. But Homer’s loving relationship with his son, Angel, is disrupted by his erasure of himself as progenitor when, for fifteen years, he denies that he is Angel’s father. One goal of the novel is to make Homer accept his own fatherhood, but Irving registers ambivalence, suppressing narration of the revelatory scene. All Homer says to Angel is that “ ‘It’s time you knew the whole story’ ” (Irving, Cider House 544), before the scene shifts. The son is given no chance to respond, to express the damage of Homer’s evasions. The narrative effect is deflation and anticlimax, an awkward refusal to satisfy a reader’s curiosity, to fill the gap. Immediately after Homer’s unnarrated confession, he departs the scene; he never lives in a normalized, acknowledged paternal relation to his son. Either fathers are incapable for Irving of living in just relation to sons, or he is incapable of imagining such fathers. The novel’s thrust toward moral disclosure is thus weakened; the thread of the narrative moving toward paternal recognition and reconciliation collapses in on itself. Even when a biological father is known, Irving may portray his authority as impotent and even destructive. In The Hotel New Hampshire, the narrator, John Berry, repeatedly refers to “my father’s illusions” (e.g., Hotel 70) as the structuring influence on his family. Win Berry fantasizes that he can create a profitable haven for his family by running a resort hotel, a dream planted by his Gatsby-like, visionary sighting of Arbuthnot, “the man in the white dinner jacket” (16), owner of a Maine hotel Win works at as a teenager. Win drags his family from one ruinous site to another—to New Hampshire, where a daughter is raped and his father dies, to Vienna, where he loses his wife and a child in transit and his hotel is destroyed by political fanatics, to New York, where another daughter commits suicide, and back to Maine, where his blindness about life becomes a literal affliction. The fallacy of the father’s authority is played out not only in Win Berry’s failures, but also in the symbolic exposure of Arbuthnot, to whom Win had relinquished authority over his life. Once seen in the flesh, Arbuthnot turns out to be a miserly, antisemitic embodiment of corruption, his bodily decay representing his moral degeneracy. The narrative thrust is thus toward unseating the power of the father as rightful inventor of the family’s story— the story that, as I noted earlier, Irving self-consciously shows him telling in the opening pages of the novel.6 The World According to Garp provides the most detailed example in Irving’s early career of the father figure’s destructive power as origin of and authority over narrative and identity. In Garp, Irving conceives paternal authority in relation to the power to tell a story, dramatizing the correspondence between authority and authorship. Garp’s reflexive structure interpolates Garp’s fiction into the narrative of Garp’s life to comment on the link between a lived reality and the making of art. The metafictional

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devices in Garp are announced at once in the “according” of the title, which simultaneously asks readers to accept the authority of Garp’s voice in writing his fiction and undermines that authority by highlighting its perspectival nature. In the end, the world according to Garp is inescapably the world according to his father. Irving figures Garp’s anxiety of influence in terms of a literal silencing and deforming of the son, who cannot escape the progenitor’s shadow over his life or his art.7 In Garp, Irving erases the father figure to exist as little more than a name, in an ironic dismantling of the Name-of-the-Father’s power. Garp knows his father’s name, but it is all he knows about the ball turret gunner whose semen impregnates Jenny Fields, and even the name is incomplete; his first initials, T. S., simply abbreviate the gunner’s rank as Technical Sergeant. Yet the life Garp leads as well as the fiction he writes are both structured by the violence of Garp’s conception and Technical Sergeant Garp’s death. Unlike the archetypal plot of discovery defined by the story of Oedipus, however, The World According to Garp includes no quest to know the father by the narrative’s end. As in The Cider House Rules, the father remains a gap in the text, supplanted by the maternal authority of Jenny Fields and by what Irving conceives as a “feminization” of Garp, after traumatic injury occurs to him and his family.8 Only by reading the subtext of narrative formation—the novel’s evolution from the death of Garp’s virtually anonymous father—can a reader uncover the fatal power of paternal origins embedded paradoxically in the father’s very absence. The world according to Garp, like The World According to Garp, is generated from an original act of violence—the rape and death of the ball turret gunner who gives his “last shot” (Irving, Garp 24) to conceive Garp.9 The narration of this act dominates the beginning of the novel, and Garp repeats it according to the Freudian narrative of the repetition compulsion. Freud laid out his scheme in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), describing an individual’s compulsive acting out of repressed traumatic experience as an effort to master trauma. Repetition familiarizes the experience, bringing it from unconscious repression through memory into consciousness (Freud, Beyond 12–14 et passim). Garp’s narrative repeats his initiatory trauma in metaphoric dream, in metonymic events, and in the similitudes and substitutions of the fiction Garp writes. The early episode in Garp is therefore Garp’s originary moment in several ways: it is the novel’s initiating incident, an opening “scene”; it is the act that conceives him; and it is the location of the primary psychological event of sex and death.10 It is the narrative’s beginning and the beginning of all Garp’s narratives. The novel’s plotting reveals Garp’s need to repeat—and so to master—the violence of his conception, accomplished by the rape and death of Technical Sergeant Garp. It evokes as well that other originary scene described by Freud in Totem and Taboo (1913), reviewed in Chapter 1: the central myth of patricide in the primal horde that he postulates as the origin of culture (Totem 140–46) and

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the model for the repetition compulsion to which ritual sacrifice bears witness. The slain father thus carries mythic power, framing Irving’s novel. Technical Sergeant Garp is both orphan—a cipher without known origins— and absent father. He is an unknown quantity in Garp’s life, the cryptic signified at the end of the signifying chain. Technical Sergeant Garp’s flak wounds, received while he served as a machine-gunner in a plane over France, have effectively lobotomized him, rendering him able only to masturbate and to speak his name—a highly ironic diminution, and distillation, of the phallocentric father. When his nurse, Jenny Fields, notices that he has erections, he becomes the object of her maternal plans: she desires to conceive with “no strings attached. [. . .] An almost virgin birth” (Garp 12). As Technical Sergeant Garp nears his death, he regresses toward infancy, burping, crying, suckling at Jenny’s breast, and losing one by one the letters of his name, calling himself “Arp,” then “Ar” (20–21). His name at last reduced to “Aaa” (22), an ambiguous sound of ecstasy or pain, he simultaneously impregnates Jenny, who has straddled his erection in a kind of calculated “rape,” and reenters, in his memory, his mother’s womb; he dies shortly thereafter. Irving concentrates into the overdetermined image of Technical Sergeant Garp’s final ejaculation the traumas that his son will be doomed to repeat in both his life’s narrative and those he writes: physical violence, the violation of the self, the silencing of language, and the regression to memory. The younger T. S. Garp, born in mythic fashion out of this paradoxically mingled rape and immaculate conception, has as his motivating if unrecognized desire the mastery of these elements of his own beginnings. Violence writes Garp’s progress much as flak, looking in the sky like “fastmoving ink flung upward” (15), wrote the death of the ball turret gunner. Garp’s repetitions are marked with failure. It is perhaps no coincidence that Technical Sergeant Garp dies—and Garp is conceived—during World War II, an important historical pivot point in the shift toward postpatriarchal American fatherhood. Irving compels Garp to repeat the initiatory trauma but never to understand it, to bring it fully to consciousness or master it. The novel’s events—the blinding of one son, the death of another, the assassination of his mother—imitate the originating violence of his conception. The fictions Garp writes, too, attempting to supply coherent meaning to his life, barely disguise his compulsive if unrecognized repetitions of violent excess. Memory is Garp’s undoing, not his therapy; insofar as he allows the past to resurface, it devours his imagination, leaving him little but nightmares of rape and death. Garp’s search in his fiction for an “overall scheme of things, a vision all his own” (110) to inform the worldview that is “according” to him ends in the vision of violence and death: “Imagination, he realized, came harder than memory” (87). As experience of the world increasingly impinges on his imagination, Garp’s fiction declines, developing generically from fantasy grounded in

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verisimilitude to graphic realism. His first, juvenile, story prepares the way: “The story [. . .] was about two young lovers who are murdered in a cemetery by the girl’s father, who thinks they are grave robbers. [. . . Then] their graves are promptly robbed. It is not certain what becomes of the father” (65). Violence, ascribed to chance, accident, and mistaken identity, looms as a narrative judgment against love. The robbing of the graves is a violation; stealing from the dead echoes how Jenny Fields “stole” Garp from the dying gunner. The father is a shadowy figure who disappears from the narrative like Technical Sergeant Garp and prefigures Garp’s actions: he is murderous when he means to protect. The only story of Garp’s that approaches mastery of violence within its narrative form, effectively “misreading” his paternal origins according to the Bloomian prescription, is his youthful, aesthetically persuasive “Pension Grillparzer,” which appears in its entirety in the novel. In this artistic act, Garp balances his memory and imagination in an equilibrium he never regains; at this point in his biography, he has not yet met his failure as a father to avert traumatic events. The centerpiece of “Grillparzer” is the recurrent dream of its narrator’s grandmother, Johanna, like “Grillparzer” itself, a story within a story. In her dream, a long-dead entourage of Charlemagne’s crusading soldiers allows their horses to drink from the fountain of a castle in which Johanna is sleeping. With each repetition of the dream, the horses and men are colder, gaunter, and fewer in number, and the sound of the horses’ breathing in the dream becomes congested. The dream diegetically points toward the future death of Johanna’s husband from a respiratory infection, and extradiegetically foretells the fate of Garp’s as yet unborn son, Walt, who is suffering from a respiratory infection when he is killed in a car accident Garp unwittingly enables. The dream points back in time and narrative levels to Garp’s origins, but it also points to the future, in which, once tested, his paternal power falls short. Irving also poses in Garp’s story the problems of narrative authority and meaning. Johanna’s dream is first narrated by the “dream man,” a circus member who “tell[s] dreams” (102) that have been dreamt by others—that is, he repeats them aloud as stories. If narrative presupposes a story to tell, one that already exists before it is committed to discourse,11 the preexisting “story” in a dream is its latent content. In Johanna’s dream, it is the story of her husband’s death and her anxiety about her own. Story, then, is preexistent, determined in advance of its telling by repressed content, depriving the teller of autonomy, the full freedom of imaginative choice. The dreamer’s dream— like the writer’s fiction—is predetermined by repressed, latent content. Although Garp’s dream man does not interpret the dreams, his telling invokes that other Viennese dream man, Sigmund Freud, as he brings dreams out from repression into the light of narration. Johanna is horrified; the dream man’s narration of her private, unspoken dream of death is to her a violation, an attempt to gain authority over her narrative. Outraged, she

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calls his invasion of her subconscious to read her internal narrative “ ‘unspeakable’ ” (108)—not to be spoken, but to be repressed like a traumatic incident. When Garp equates psychic violation with physical violation, both work metonymically in “Grillparzer” to reenact the initiating violation of the ball turret gunner. Garp’s subsequent work enables far fewer transformations between the latent content of his unconscious, shaped by his biography, and the manifest content of his fiction, until, at last like his father, he is rendered “speechless,” literally and aesthetically. Garp writes his novel The World According to Bensenhaver after the car accident in which one son is killed, the other loses an eye, Garp’s jaw is broken, and his wife, Helen, bites off part of her tongue as well as much of the penis of her lover. Garp’s artistic failure concretizes his paternal failures as they are projected into the opening chapters of Bensenhaver, which are, like “Grillparzer,” interpolated into Garp. The title’s echo of the title of Garp’s life-narrative invokes the regressions of a mirror-text, replicating the narrative in which it is embedded. In Garp’s sensationalistic depiction of rape and murder in the mirror-text, he represents virtually untransformed memories of the violations of his family. Garp’s final completed work, the least displaced from his autobiography, is a therapeutic project intended to exorcise memory. But he manages only to produce bad art, crass and nearly pornographic in its violence; as Irving told an interviewer, “The whole basis of art is selectivity. There’s nothing very selective about memory, especially when we remember traumatic events” (McCaffery 3). As Bloom might suggest, good art misreads; bad art merely repeats. Readers have disagreed about whether Bensenhaver represents success or failure for Garp. Whereas Gabriel Miller asserts that “Garp loses control of his art in a convulsive outpouring of his personal feelings of outrage, revulsion, and despair” (111), Carol C. Harter and James R. Thompson counter that the novel “represents how the artist harnesses and gives shape to inchoate feelings” (95–96). Garp’s graphic descriptions of violence could appear somewhat ameliorated by the oddly detached voices he supplies to his novel’s rape victim, Hope, the police inspector, Bensenhaver, and his narrator, all of whom project Garp’s desire to find a distancing point of view. Yet Bensenhaver, who, as the detective, is the narrative surrogate for the writer and thus for Garp’s attempt at “objectivity,” is drawn into violence himself. His vision is distorted by memory of mayhem until he is compelled to repeat the murder he had hoped to avert—like the father in Garp’s juvenile story, and like Garp himself, with whom some blame for the fatal accident rests. Indeed, Irving’s narrator implies judgment against Bensenhaver, noting that “Garp had lost the freedom of imagining life truly” (Garp 376, italics in original). Irving explores the violation of Garp’s imagination by remembered experience, a violence he projects as rape. The rape scene in Bensenhaver draws heavily on the particulars of Helen’s

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betrayal and the accident: the rapist physically resembles Helen’s lover; Hope’s husband, like Garp, has unwittingly seen the rapist’s vehicle pass by with his wife in it; references to castration and fellatio recur; and Bensenhaver is accidentally responsible for the murder of Hope’s husband, just as Garp has been responsible for his son’s death. While the violence of Garp’s novel refers immediately to the accident that befell his family, the rape and death implicit in his origins preside over the trajectory of his fiction, just as they have dominated his life-narrative. Irving in fact exaggerates the deterministic plotting in the novel’s climax: Garp dies, effectively like his progenitor, in the figurative womb—assassinated in the womblike wrestling room at the school where he spent his childhood. Irving closes with a summary pronouncement about “the world according to Garp,” within which “we are all terminal cases” (437)—a classification that refers directly to nurse Jenny Fields’s initial identification of the moribund Technical Sergeant Garp. If the father is a terminal case, then it seems the son must also be so.

Jonathan Franzen’s Fallen Father— The Corrections If Irving engages Garp in a futile quest for Bloomian misreadings within the fiction he writes in order to correct the violence that begat him, Jonathan Franzen’s titular metaphor of “correction” might also profitably be seen to translate Bloom’s notion of “misreading” into an analogous act. The term “correction” provides Franzen with a rich denotative resource. Etymologically, passing through the Old French from the Latin verb corrigere, it embraces the following definitions: to make straight; to make alterations or improvements in, amend, reform; to put right (a fault) by removing it or substituting something else, to rectify, to remedy, to make up for, to atone for; to reform character or habits, to mend one’s ways, to chastise; to restore to health, to cure (Oxford Latin Dictionary 449).12 To correct thus implies working with the material at hand. Each meaning and the action it implies retains within it both temporality and the trace of its opposite—just as the misreading of the father or precursor always implies that figure’s continued presence, notionally if not in the flesh. The idea of “correction” holds within itself the person, thing, or act to be corrected, the error or disease to be remedied, the crooked path to be made straight. In The Corrections, Franzen diffuses the metaphor of correction through the texture of the novel in correspondingly multivalent meanings. David Brauner summarizes the various contexts in which Franzen uses the term “correction”: “literary revision, the ‘doctoring’ of the results of scientific experiments, adjustments in the values of stock market shares, the US penal

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system, child-rearing discipline, pedagogical practice, intellectual pedantry, and the desire for personal atonement, for self-improvement and for the habitual alteration of another person’s behavior” (“Value, Values” 6). To this list I would add the foundational “correction” that knits the novel’s plots and characterizations together: the family members’ attempt to correct the patriarch’s influence over them. Franzen engages the members of the Lambert family in a dense, tragicomic narrative of gestures striving toward all of the senses of corrigere. The family’s desire for most of the corrections in which they engage originates in the character of the Lambert paterfamilias, Alfred, who hovers over the lives of his three children and wife like a taciturn, disapproving spirit. The Lambert father is the source of the crookedness to make straight, the wrongs to right, the character to reform, the disease to cure. Each of Alfred’s family members tries unsuccessfully to misread his influence, to correct the damage they feel he has inflicted upon them as a familial authority, by redefining their identities against him. The fault lies perhaps less in his values as such as in his rigid, merciless exaction of them, regardless of context or consequence. Among Franzen’s greatest ironies is that Alfred ultimately numbers among the victims of his own ideology.13 Franzen, even more overtly than most of the writers in this study, devotes a substantial portion of The Corrections to the interior experience of the father figure in free fall from the position of authority. I therefore outline Alfred’s disintegration in some detail and condense my discussion of the other family members into a symptomatic rather than exhaustive reading. Whereas Garp begins with a literal and figurative paternal absence under which Garp labors, The Corrections begins with the father very much at center stage. Despite devoting lengthy chapters—what Jeremy Green aptly calls “novellas” (Green 105)—to each of his family members’ perspectives, the novel never leaves Alfred behind as a governing presence, allowing the reader to trace the spectacle of the father figure’s influence and decline. From the expressive projections of Alfred’s state of mind within the narrator’s very first descriptions of the “objective” scenery around Alfred, to the first note Franzen gives for Alfred himself, to all of the episodes in which Alfred is not physically present, the father reigns over the narrative—and his bodily and mental breakdown dominate his presence. “The madness of an autumn prairie cold front” opens the novel, with “Gust after gust of disorder,” “restless” trees, and lengthening shadows, while Alfred himself “struggle[s] to his feet,” hearing within himself “the alarm bell of anxiety” (Franzen, Corrections 3). Madness, disorder, restlessness, struggle, and anxiety are the watchwords of the Lambert family. Alfred’s wife, Enid, also hears these notes that she is powerless to silence. The alarm bell peals the growing disorder of the parents’ house as they age and as Alfred drifts increasingly into the Parkinsonism and dementia that presage his death—and, like Senior Worthington in Irving’s Cider House

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Rules, that focus the devolution of the father’s authority within his failing mental capacity, deflating the mythic masculinist power over reason. The arc of the novel, despite its many divagations, drives toward the scene of Alfred’s plurisignificant “fall”: literally, his fall—or jump—from the deck of a cruise ship; figuratively, his fall from the position of authority in the family as he falls away from rationality and physical health. Just as Garp’s story is foreshadowed in his narrative origins, Alfred’s plunge is the narrative destination predicted metaphorically within the autumn of the novel’s first line. While Franzen narrates the scene of Alfred’s fall well before the novel closes, it is the fulcrum upon which the novel rests, signifying the devastation of the patriarchal figure and the social order he stands for. Franzen engages the Lamberts in a brutally dark comedy as he writes his book of the father. In this regard, Franzen’s mode, tone, and sensibility, committed to a realism of irony and detachment, seem diametrically opposed to Irving’s, despite their shared comic impulses. The contrast underscores why these apparently mismatched writers and their texts usefully bracket this study, because the topical concern with postpatriarchal fatherhood as well as the ideological positions underlying its thematic presentation in postwar American fiction span a wide range of aesthetic forms and interests. When, late in his life, Garp exults as he embarks on “what he called his ‘father book,’ or ‘the book of fathers’ ” that he titles My Father’s Illusions, about the failures of “ ‘an idealistic father who [. . .] keeps establishing little utopias for his kids to grow up in’ ” (Garp 333), the narrator comments that “[b]ecause he was inventing a father, Garp felt [. . .] in touch with the spirit of pure imagination” (405).14 The nostalgia Irving expresses through Garp for a visionary father whom he never experienced is a key to Irving’s primary mode of sentimental realism. His sentimentality is alleviated by flights of fancy in the “spirit of pure imagination”—excesses of plot that test plausibility, such as Jenny Fields impregnating herself on a patient’s erection—and by frequent whimsical turns of humor, but the dominant context is social realism, a representation of the world of relations that exhibits faith in the referentiality of the word. Without going down the rabbit-hole of attempting to define “realism” or any of its likewise contested related terms, suffice it to say that, as Wallace Martin summarizes, classic realism comprises “the selection of typical subjects, objectivity, [. . . and] an emphasis on causality,” to which he adds the notion of a “social criticism” that is “didactic”—that is, committed to a “point of view” the realist writer holds as “true” (61, italics in original).15 Unsurprisingly, Irving claims to “follow the form of the nineteenth-century novel” (Hansen 80), sees his literary master as Charles Dickens (“In Defense of Sentimentality” 96) with respect to his mode of realism at once comic and sentimentally melodramatic, and presents material that is largely “intelligent soap opera” (Priestley 499). Franzen may also be seen to write intelligent soap opera, as he focuses on the dysfunctions of a white, middle-class, middle-American family. Franzen

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met a chorus of negative responses to the novel for his contretemps over Oprah Winfrey’s selection of The Corrections for her book club, a selection deriving no doubt from Winfrey’s sense that the novel could speak to her broad audience. As Brauner suggests, however, the ad hominem firestorm focused little on the text itself, as critics charged that Franzen had “sold out and become a middle-brow writer” (“Value, Values” 4)—the latter a plausible sally against Irving as well. The details of Franzen’s literary biography that enabled such charges of betrayal are not germane to this analysis, except insofar as, after his first two novels, The Twenty-Seventh City (1988) and Strong Motion (1992), he moved decisively away from the postmodern literary fathers he at first allied himself with, such as Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, and William Gaddis, toward some version of social and psychological realism.16 The mode he chose, however, left room for him to turn intelligent soap opera into satire. In keeping with a mode of sentimental melodrama, Irving demonstrates affection toward the many grotesques he afflicts with violent acts. Franzen, however, in his penchant for satire, may seem to hold his characters at arm’s length, even to disdain them. Among reviewers, for example, when Joseph Epstein accuses Franzen of creating a “grotesque” rather than “dysfunctional” family, he by no means connotes the warmth Irving conveys for grotesques; of the novel’s close, Epstein judges that “his characters have long since lost their color by having been thoroughly rinsed in contempt” (Epstein 34, 35). I propose that Franzen’s perspective on his characters is more ambivalent and tempered than Epstein suggests, however, in that he engages with sympathetic disappointment in their failures even as he exaggerates them. In this regard, Scholes and Kellogg’s classic description of satire, appearing within their sweeping historical account of the mode as it began in Augustan Rome, is salutary: Satire depends on notions of the ideal proper to epic, romance, and sacred myth, namely that the ideal world is good and the real world is bad; hence satire naturally flourishes when the world is in transition from an ideally oriented moral scheme of the cosmos to an empirically oriented non-moral scheme. [. . . Satire] strikes out against a particular society for having fallen away from conformity to an ideal past and against the ideals of the past for having so little relevance to the real world (112). Franzen’s apparently mixed sympathies are the product of satirical representation, his characterizations conveying the futility of a disappointed idealist rather than contempt. His ambivalence is evident especially as he moves toward closure—which, I will argue, plausibly, if surprisingly, directs the novel back from satire toward a sentimentality not so very far from Irving’s. Indeed, for all their differences in mode and manner, Irving and Franzen share a common judgment when they unmask the father’s impotence. Catherine

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Toal aptly identifies Franzen’s perspective as “melancholy,” generating a narrative that “create[s] substitute objects of condemnation and blame: chiefly those associated with authority (discipline, the patriarchal father), even though such influences are almost defunct in the environments described” (306). Like Irving, then, Franzen implicitly subscribes, if despite himself, to an ideology according to which the father’s authority is necessary for the social order. The novel’s representations do not overtly express such a view, which is noisily contested by the members of the Lambert family, yet the implication of a lost ideal appears when everything falls apart as that authority vanishes. Irving’s novel lacks an image of a father; Franzen’s, by contrast, labors under such an image, painted in rich, disturbing detail. Alfred is the center that does not hold as he declines into dementia, which Franzen presents harrowingly in his relation to language and his growing incapacity to distinguish fantasy from reality. The narrative retains a third-person perspective generally focalized within the perceptions of a given Lambert parent or child; Franzen’s voice drifts in and out of free indirect discourse for each. As the novel’s form circulates among the Lamberts, Franzen demonstrates how Alfred’s disintegration provides a centrifugal force in his family, throwing his children and wife into chaotic, abject states from which they seek their “corrections” to his legacies. Alfred’s decline describes the flip side of the patriarch’s hysterical claim to authority—in this sense he is, as other commentators have noted, a descendant of King Lear (Brauner, “Value, Values” 8; Weinstein 107–8). Early on, from Enid’s perspective, he is described as a “governing force” whose arguments consistently press “the constitutional basis of the tyranny’s legitimacy” (Corrections 6, 9); with telling irony, however, the description appears within a passage describing Alfred’s growing lack of “the neurological wherewithal” (6) to manage their household. Alfred in his prime subscribes to the unyielding values of a muscular, puritanical masculinity fundamental to the Protestant work ethic governing his home and work life and to the success of the American capitalist endeavor: “Irresponsibility and undiscipline were the bane of his existence” (67), the narrator avers. When as a young man, Alfred feels sexual desires that do not match his austere self-concept, he represses them with discipline and the “power to refuse,” defining himself thereby as “a man” (244, italics in original) and reflexively blaming others for any sign of moral weakness. Later, for example, he scorns the younger generation of employees whose refrain is “ ‘Take it easy’ ” (242). As Colin Hutchinson summarizes, Alfred represents “a precountercultural, pre-Reaganite America—an America of industrial production, broad political consensus, Protestant work ethic, self-sacrifice, and civic pride” (199). That Alfred devoted his career to being chief engineer for the Midland Pacific Railroad suggests how Franzen uses the character to signify the increasingly obsolescent American economy; in parallel to the deterioration of Alfred’s authority, the railroad is gutted and replaced in a merger.

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As an engineer, Alfred conceptualizes himself, especially his masculinity, in relation to the material world: “Three common measures of a material’s strength were its resistance to pressure, to tension, and to shearing” (Corrections 264). In narrative asides that curiously escape the diegesis that is mainly focalized from Alfred’s perspective, Franzen complements the metaphorical projections of Alfred’s self-concept with quotations from Schopenhauer, whose work Alfred has read and underlined (266), and whose name conjures the power of will—and, by extension, the underlying ideal of the autonomous liberal subject. As a minor character in the novel asserts, “ ‘This is the liberal vision: genuine, permanent, voluntary selfmelioration’ ” (207, italics in original). It follows, then, that Franzen chooses to show Alfred’s degeneration in sharply embodied terms, not just because the body literally weakens as it obeys the conditions of mortal nature, but also because bodily strength is implicated ideologically in the strength of paternal authority and the exertion of the will. Post-enlightenment patriarchy depends on the order of reason, resting on the Cartesian opposition of the body to consciousness and the implied hierarchy of mind to material being. When Franzen deconstructs that opposition in Alfred’s perceptions and his control over his body, as he descends into the hallucinations wrought by his disease, the novel also deconstructs the masculinist order Alfred seeks to uphold. Alfred’s illness, that is, weakens the male body, making it vulnerable and visible. Franzen represents this process most graphically in two hideously comic set pieces narrating Alfred’s hallucinations, appearing in the chapter devoted to Alfred’s perspective at the center of the novel. These episodes of disintegration, occurring while Alfred is on the cruise ship Gunnar Myrdal with Enid, entwine his damaged rational capacities with his bodily failures, demonstrating how the body will always take perverse primacy. The first episode recounts his hallucination of a talking “turd,” a taunting, Rabelaisian personification of his physical, psychological, and spiritual abjection. Physically, Alfred is struggling with incontinence and Parkinsonian tremors that impede his ability to manage his adult diapers; mentally, he can no longer reliably distinguish fantasy from reality. The turd is the return of the repressed, embodying the fact of the embodiment Alfred has struggled against in his assumption of male authority.17 The excrement unleashed by his imagination signifies a taboo, a defilement that reminds him that the essence of being human is disorder and bodily waste; as Philip Weinstein writes, “Alfred’s inescapable nightmare is to be returned to the pre-toilettrained foulness from which human trajectories are launched” (113). Franzen has his fun punning with this grotesquerie; the body can always be counted on to provoke crass humor. The narrator aptly describes this base allegorical figure as a “loose stool” (282); the turd addresses Alfred as “ ‘Asshole’ ” (280, 282), as one of a legion of “ ‘Tightasses [, . . .] constipated fascist schoolteachers and Nazi cops’ ” (283), and as an “ ‘anal retentive type [. . . who wants]

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everything in jail’ ” (284, italics in original). The latter accusation escaping from Alfred’s unconscious nods to a metaphor buried in Franzen’s titular “corrections,” linking the concept to a notion of penal discipline. Franzen alludes in all likelihood to Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), with its prescription for repression, when Alfred tells the turd in his hallucination that “ ‘Civilization depends upon restraint.” Franzen summons to Alfred’s mind the rule of order that inscribes and protects the law of the father: “He suddenly understood that the turd was an escaped convict, a piece of human refuse that belonged in jail. That was what jail was for: people who believed that they, rather than society, made the rules” (283). The metaphor of jail—as the institution of social control and of paternalism in its most exaggerated form—echoes one of the quotations Franzen interpolates from Schopenhauer that Alfred has apparently underlined in a book Enid finds: “If you want a safe compass to guide you through life . . . you cannot do better than accustom yourself to regard this world as a penitentiary, a sort of penal colony” (254, italics in original). Schopenhauer’s “safe compass” presupposes fear and a will to be lawabiding; implied as well is that one must by necessity live under surveillance, that the world is punitive by design to maintain an order that humans would otherwise not choose to subscribe to. Schopenhauer’s bleak guideline, emphasized by Franzen in repeated references to the penitentiary as a mode of “corrections,” summons Michel Foucault’s insights concerning the disciplinary function of Bentham’s Panopticon. Foucault inferred “the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power,” and he elaborated the “discipline-mechanism” as “a functional mechanism that must improve the exercise of power by making it lighter, more rapid, more effective, a design of subtle coercion for a society to come” (Foucault). The discipline-mechanism of culture, in this case reinforcing the dominant ideology of paternal authority, when exercised via an individual’s awareness of his or her permanent visibility under surveillance, causes the individual to self-regulate according to the “rules” of that authority. Alfred’s punishing self-regulation signals his participation in the system of power; the system quite literally topples him from his position within it when he can no longer distinguish his fantasies from the workings of the world or retain invisibility before the disciplinary lens of patriarchal ideology. The climactic scene in this regard occurs when Alfred pitches himself off the deck of the cruise ship. Franzen opens the scene with Alfred’s conceptualization of his bodily functions in metaphors derived from the workaday world to which he has tied his identity. These are images that console him with their orderliness: “the blood was crowded with commuters, [. . .] ureic sanitation workers, hemoglobinous deliverymen [, . . .] stern foremen like insulin, the enzymic middle managers and executive epinephrine,” and so forth (329, italics added). But he finds himself in bodily crisis, desperate

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to urinate. Recognizing that the “problem was that his nervous system could no longer be relied on for an accurate assessment of his need to go,” he attempts unsuccessfully “Simply [to hold] things together”—to keep his body minimally disciplined within the rational world.18 Yet hastening to the men’s room, Alfred is again afflicted with hallucinations, including another “mobile turd” (329) and a man who appears to him both threatening and familiar, causing him to flee toward the deck. The brilliance of the scene appears in the way Franzen interpenetrates Alfred’s internal and external, objective and subjective, experiences within the narration, making the absurd seem rational when seen through Alfred’s eyes. He “recognized” the man in the bathroom as someone from his past, “as betrayal personified,” even though he is “worried” because he knows the man could not possibly afford a luxury cruise, just as he worries that “the turd was a creature from the night but was afoot in broad daylight” (331). His confusion grows the more estranged he becomes from his body; he senses that “an observatory in the far nether regions had sent out a feeble signal” (331) just before he realizes that, having ignored that “signal,” he has wet himself. Franzen’s satire lies in the excesses of Alfred’s hallucinatory images, in how the very constituents of his ideological framework—the dedication to work, the fear of his body, the horror of being seen as otherwise than in full control—shape his debilitating fantasies. But the passage’s dark slapstick humor is mitigated by the nightmare of Alfred’s hallucination; the reader is brought into Alfred’s perspective and thus toward compassion. Alfred perceives his social failure to perform his (literal) regulatory functions and experiences the terror of abjection, of the loss of the border dividing the conceptual oppositions upon which he depends: “The day world floated on the night world and the night world tried to swamp the day world and he worked and worked to keep the day world watertight. But there had been a grievous breach” (332). Franzen’s Hemingway-like rhetoric—the sequence of unpunctuated coordinating clauses—suggests Alfred’s growing inability to make mental differentiations. Franzen underscores Alfred’s confusion just before the aging man plunges into the sea. In a sequence of unanswered parallel questions that hover in their origin between the narrator and Alfred’s awareness, the narration leaves the cause of his fall indeterminate: And shame and despair— Or was it the wind catching the sail of his raincoat? Or was it the ship’s pitching? Or the tremor in his legs? [. . .] Or vertigo’s standing invitation? [. . .] (332). Franzen sharply breaks off the scene with Alfred suspended over the sea, only to resume with a disorienting shift to Enid’s perspective. The result is at

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once comically objectifying and emotionally piercing as the passage presents Enid’s ambivalence toward her husband, in his mix of authority and debility, at just the moment in which he may die. Enid, high on a contraband drug, sees the falling Alfred at first only as a thing—the embodiment caused by his disease making him not only visible but also dehumanized. The narrator at first keeps a satiric distance on Enid, describing in empirical language and agonizing slow-motion her perception of “something ‘plummeting’ (a thing of value ‘plunging’ in a ‘free fall’),” accompanied by absurd calculations of the thing’s velocity and distance. Yet Franzen implies ambivalence toward the father’s fall when the narrator immediately thereafter includes the reader as a subject in the scene with the intimacy of second-person address: “if you happened to be gazing directly at the window [. . . you had] more than enough time to identify the falling object as your husband of forty-seven years; [. . .] to experience not only the certainty that something terrible had happened but also a peculiar sense of intrusion.” Alfred remains an object to Enid, and yet Franzen alters the tone, concluding the passage with rare beauty, as “you” are allowed “to observe the expression on your husband’s face, to register its almost youthful beauty, its peculiar serenity, for who could have anticipated the grace with which the raging man would fall?” (335). Ending with a question rhetorically allies Enid’s perceptions with Alfred’s in the prior narration, even as the sentence reiterates in the image of “raging” the damage he performs and confirms that he, together with the authority he represents, is truly fallen. As Alfred falls from his paternal power, from command of his reason and body, he is increasingly excluded from a sense of self. The model of society governing Alfred’s endeavors and self-concept is mid-century American capitalism, with its devotion to the ownership of property gained by hard work and self-discipline—the clichéd furnishings of the American Dream. James Annesley reminds us that, within consumer society, “identity is a function of the ownership of specific products” (Annesley 118). Furthermore, within the liberal paradigm, “ownership” of the body as governed by the mind implies control over the primary “property” ensuring autonomy and power. Yet after Alfred has been rescued from the sea and, fully disoriented by dementia, is placed in a nursing home, he experiences himself as merely an ungovernable thing unable to speak his desires—no longer an intact identity or property under his ownership.19 In the internal narrative to which Franzen’s voiced perspective gives access, Alfred perceives his condition in terms of the penitentiary about which Schopenhauer’s words warned him, collapsing the difference between metaphor and reality. “The question was: How to get out of this prison?” he thinks, referring to his environment as a “prison yard” and cursing the purveyors of the state apparatus, the “bureaucrats,” “functionaries,” and “[g]oddamned sneaky bastards with their pinheaded regulations” that entrap him (Corrections 549). Tellingly, one of the last moments of awareness Franzen narrates for Alfred is figured

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in the vocabulary of knowledge and power, the pillars of Western order: “the clarity to think and the power to act were still vivid in his memory. Through a window that gave onto the next world, he could still see the clarity and see the power, just out of reach, beyond the window’s thermal panes” (556). His despair over his dementia reduces Alfred to suicidal desire. When his son Chip refuses to help him end his life, their roles reverse: “Chip’s face was full of power and clarity. [. . .] Chip’s answer told him that this was where the story ended” (557). The story that closes is the story of the father’s power. Implicit in Alfred’s narrative is the degree to which, despite his growing impotence, his exercise of authority nevertheless retains its influence over the members of his family. The Lambert children tie themselves in knots with respect to their father’s effects on their identities, and their “misreadings” of his story tend, like Garp’s, largely toward compulsive repetitions rather than reinventions. Their attempts to resist Alfred’s corrections of them by “correcting” him in various ways signal their entrapment within the very same system of power, surveillance, and self-regulation that undergirds the dominant paternal fiction. Indeed, that Enid sees Alfred’s fall without at first recognizing him emphasizes the irony of how panoptic surveillance instigates self-regulation regardless of whether we are actually being watched at the moments of our greatest vulnerability and self-consciousness. Such is the mechanism of the children’s replication of their father’s rules. Because the novel is so dense with detail in developing each family member’s “novella” as a take on the Lambert agon, I will largely exclude Enid and the Lambert daughter, Denise, from the discussion.20 Moreover, not only does Franzen seems singularly acute with regard to the oedipal struggles of Alfred’s sons with their father—and with his specter—and to the crisis over the meanings of masculinity their struggles entail, but he also designs them to represent symmetrically opposing responses to their father’s influence. Gary is the eldest Lambert child, and his likenesses to Alfred, as well as his strivings to resist his father’s influence, are the most obvious among the siblings. Externally, Gary’s character note sounds in his business success and his consumerism, both exaggerated internalizations of Alfred’s Protestant work ethic. Just as Alfred’s interior discourse is marked by the metaphors of the business world, Gary’s is by the language of numbers and measurement: “leading indicators,”“key indices” (137), his “seasonally adjusted assessment of life’s futility and brevity” (138). Gary is overtly engaged in “measur[ing] his distance from St. Jude,” the town where he grew up and his parents remain, and his motivation is to beat his father at his own game of authority (149). His “ambition [is] not to be like his father” (170)—“his entire life was set up as a correction of his father’s life” (179)—but he also desperately seeks Alfred’s approval, hoping, for example, that his parents will visit with his family long enough to “see how good Gary’s life was, how worthy of their admiration and respect” (171). As his wife, Caroline, points out, Gary

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entertains a fantasy of family life that traces to his parents’ heyday, to the stereotypes of the mid-twentieth century dream of American prosperity and harmony built on the liberal model of autonomy: “ ‘It’s like you’re suddenly trying to make us act like it’s 1964 and we’re all living in Peoria’ ” (183). Yet Gary senses the cultural drift into the postpatriarchal model, and for all his anger at his father (the chapter devoted to Gary is titled “The More He Thought About It, The Angrier He Got”), he feels a sense of loss: “to Gary it seemed that the nature of family life itself was changing—that togetherness and filiality and fraternity weren’t valued the way they were when he was young” (164). In his dealings with his wife and sons, he is, according to Caroline’s point of view, “a shouter. Like his father before him” (158), but with far less efficacy than during his own childhood. In fact, his failures bring to light ways in which the cocksure exercise of Alfred’s ideologies is faulty. Gary turns to drink, unwilling to acknowledge his depression and anhedonia (162), which are virtually identical to his own “solitary father’s depression in a basement” (169); his intervention in his father’s business affairs goes awry; and his sons do not follow his rules—his law of the father has no teeth. His son Caleb, for instance, strips away the gravitas of one view Gary inherits from his father: Alfred’s resignation to the self-regulation demanded by panoptic surveillance within Schopenhauer’s world-penitentiary. In a postmodern deflation of meaning, Caleb flips the concept upside-down when he wants to install a surveillance camera in the family kitchen as a “hobby” (153)—at one stroke, he turns the tables, making his father the object rather than subject of surveillance and converting the very act of surveillance into a trivial object of consumption. To ground Gary’s ambivalence toward the rule of Alfred, Franzen offers an initiating incident from his childhood. The narration, appearing in the chapter focalized on Alfred’s perspective, picks up on the signifiers clustering around the notion of penal corrections. Alfred walks into the sleeping boy’s room to discover a “jail of Popsicle sticks” (271) featuring a crudely made popsicle-stick electric chair. This is young Gary’s doomed effort “to fashion an object and seek his father’s approval” (272) by building the “house of correction that Alfred had imagined” (271)—it exemplifies the son’s sorry “misreading” of the father’s narrative. Gary has attempted to make concrete Alfred’s main ideology of discipline, as if, expecting that his actions are watched for their adherence to his father’s law, he hopes to disarm punishment by certifying the ideology in material terms. Rather than feeling empathy from interpreting his son’s sad gesture, however, all Alfred can do is think of his own Platonic despair, how the construction of the object falls short of the image in his mind: “that maybe every ‘real’ thing in the world was as shabbily protean, underneath, as this electric chair” (272, italics in original). Alfred’s response conveys the harsh, rigid standards his children know they can never meet; the father is always dissatisfied with his children’s enactment of his law. It is thus telling that, years later, as Gary worries

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consciously about submitting his father to participate in a drug trial, he has a fevered dream releasing his latent wish in the symbols of his past defeat: “he slipped briefly into a room in which his father had been strapped into an electric chair and fitted with a metal helmet, and Gary’s own hand was on the old-fashioned stirrup-like power switch, which he’d evidently already thrown” (232). It is a dream of anxiety and revenge, whose full resonance we learn only belatedly, as Franzen narrates the flashback to the Popsiclestick jail some forty pages after he narrates Gary’s dream. Anxiety and revenge regarding the father’s authority mark the portions of the novel focused on Chip Lambert as well. In fact, the scene in which Alfred spies Gary’s travesty of a house of correction directly follows the lengthy “Dinner of Revenge” (253) episode that explains Chip’s psychology much as the little jail explains that of his older brother, Gary. In the episode, Alfred is several times referred to as the “boss” with respect to his sons, whose “nature to throw their arms around him [. . .] had been corrected out of them” (250). The Revenge begins as Enid’s gesture directed at Alfred, but the scourge—which consists of Enid serving foods, such as liver and rutabaga, that both Alfred and Chip loathe—turns largely against a young Chip. Gary, always desperate to please by toeing the line of authority, eagerly eats his meal and takes seconds, while Franzen drolly describes Chip’s revulsion and resistance. Alfred shows a degree of sympathy, eating some of the vile portion from Chip’s plate, but in the end he hands down the paternal fiat: to sit at the table until the food is finished, under threat of a spanking. The father’s power, that is, consolidates humiliation with corporal punishment, a linkage that Alfred much later suffers during his decline, according to a kind of brutal poetic justice. The narrator, in this section of the novel shifting among the perspectives of the various players, describes the lesson Chip takes from the episode’s disclosure of the patriarchal system of regulation: “The taste of self-inflicted suffering, of an evening trashed in spite, brought curious satisfactions. [. . .] refusal had a flavor for which a taste could be acquired” (263). Refusal becomes Chip’s key response to the law of the father. If Albert recognizes that his battle is largely with “modernity” (459), Chip parries by going one better than his father, adopting the deep skepticism of postmodern contemporaneity—for which, he discovers, he is wildly unsuited. Unlike Gary, Chip’s response to patriarchal surveillance is actively to repudiate the watcher, courting his upright father’s disapproval in every choice he makes. His self-regulation takes the outward form of no regulation at all. Early in the chapter devoted to Chip’s perspective—which, acerbically titled “The Failure,” leaves little to interpretive chance—Franzen’s narrator offers a précis of Chip’s self-inflicted suffering, figured repeatedly in signifiers of heterosexual male authority, authenticity, and authorship: he has “lost his assistant professorship in Textual Artifacts at D----- College, in Connecticut, as a result of an offense involving a female undergraduate”; he has completed

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a laughably self-indulgent screenplay, which fatally confuses artistic with academic discourse; his mother boasts that he writes for the Wall Street Journal, a misunderstanding he has perpetuated for fear of shame; he alienates his girlfriend; and, at thirty-nine, “he blamed his parents for the person he had become” (17). Desperate to climb out of debt and despair, Chip joins with international gangsters in a fraudulent scheme to profit from a new economy in Lithuania of “ ‘Enlightened neotechnofeudalism’ ” (437), using the capacities of the internet to “post whole-cloth fabrications without troubling to check even his spelling” (434). Through Chip’s many wrong turns, Franzen skewers a host of contemporary American targets— among them the academy, excesses of feminist practice, and the postindustrial global economy, with its dependence on American naivete: “The lesson [. . .] that Chip was now learning was that the more patently satirical the promises, the lustier the influx of American capital” (436). Mostly, however, Franzen satirizes Chip’s own naivete in failing to recognize or negotiate the crucial disjunction in his inherently masculinist construction of his identity, which causes him defeat at every turn. He has adopted a radical, Marxist, anti-patriarchal politics to “correct” Alfred’s dedication to the postwar American economic ideal. Increasingly, however, Chip reveals himself as a throwback, not an avant-gardist. Hitting bottom financially, he expresses the politically prohibited desire to be a consumer, defining a masculine identity worthy of his father’s approval: “without money he was hardly a man. [. . .] He no longer wanted to live in a different world; he just wanted to be a man with dignity in this world” (105). Franzen exaggerates Chip’s self-contradiction in the slapstick “Nightmare of Consumption” (93) set piece, a complement to the Dinner of Revenge. Rather than, as in his childhood, honestly refusing what he finds distasteful, Chip embarks on his career of deception, most centrally deceiving himself. He sells his books of critical theory for a paltry sum to fund a lunch for his parents and steals an unaffordable salmon fillet from a pretentious grocery store, only to have the lunch fall flat—like Gary, even when he tries to please, he fails. Once Chip rewrites his identity, ceding his position as an intellectual, he sees no alternative but the obverse of Alfred’s code of hard work and discipline, which he finds in lies, theft, and acquisitiveness, revealing the narrowest possible misreading of his father’s creed: “Now that he had cash in his pocket [. . .] he didn’t care so much what his parents thought of him. [. . .] he could no longer fathom why the old man had seemed like such a killer” (128). Chip accomplishes putative revenge against the father in the father’s own inescapable terms, at the cost of every scrap of independent identity he attempted to build for himself. No wonder, then, that when, defeated and depleted, he returns home to St. Jude—named, Franzen reminds us, for the patron saint of hopeless causes (403)—Chip thinks that “He’d lost track of what he wanted, and since who a person was was what a person wanted, you could say that he’d lost track of himself” (535). Ceding

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desire to the father’s proscriptions and his own failure of productive imagination, he cedes his subjectivity. The man who has in every way possible attempted to repudiate his father’s values finds himself at home, dressing in his father’s clothes, which “fit him better than he would have guessed” (539). Chip undergoes a startling transformation at the novel’s close, performing the conservative role of the father figure’s “power and clarity” within the Lambert family and feeling “as if his consciousness had been shorn of all identifying marks and transplanted, metempsychotically, into the body of a steady son, a trustworthy brother” (543). Chip’s transformation is part of the strange reversal Franzen engages at the close of the novel, especially insofar as it moves toward an uncharacteristically redemptive resolution, righting the family into a reconciled, if provisional, coherence, and shifting the mode of the narration toward sentimentality. Franzen plays out the family drama at the climactic “last” Christmas dinner that Enid has doggedly requested of her children, a reunion she hopes will paper over the familial dysfunction in an idealized ritual of nostalgic harmony. Gary disrupts the reunion, exposing the family dissension and lashing out like the prodigal son—formerly Chip’s role—he has heretofore suppressed. Denise has devoted her corrections of Alfred’s legacy to seeking father surrogates in heterosexual romances, trying out a lesbian affair in repudiation of the family’s strict heteronormative expectations, and throughout, compensating for the lack of support she feels within the family with an obsessive career as a restaurateur, seeking nurturance rather literally in a fetish object, food. At the reunion, her insight is that “She’d never really known her father,” who, she realizes, “had shown his faith in her by taking her at face value” (523) even in contravention of his own values. But their brief rapprochement is overshadowed by her recognition of his irremediable impotence. Lost in hallucination, he wets himself, and she must clean him—thus symbolically witnessing the father’s exposed phallus. Alfred demonstrates to the family that he has reached a stage of dementia requiring care that Enid can no longer provide. Enid clings to her stance of denial until at last she reluctantly agrees that “ ‘Something has to change’ ” (543). The reunion is thereby a scene of fracture, in which any illusion of family order or coherence is unmasked. Yet once, in the brief closing chapter, the father is expunged—Alfred safely tucked away in a long-term care facility—the family seems to “correct” itself and enter onto the road to recovery. In the twinkling of an eye—the chapter, focalized in Enid’s perspective and titled “The Corrections,” is a mere six pages—Franzen ties up loose ends. Gary reconciles with the wife he had alienated, Denise happily starts a new venture, Chip marries, has twins, and is on his way to producing a successful screenplay. Enid is thrilled, free to say or do whatever she wishes, including to the now nearly insensate Alfred. Franzen closes the novel with Alfred’s death, providing for the last

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line Enid’s brisk thought: “She was seventy-five and she was going to make some changes in her life” (566). In tolling this note of personal transformation and comic unity, in a kind of blissful Hollywood ending, Franzen seems to shift to the model of the nineteenth-century novel of manners, thereby introducing interpretive instability. Is this feast of personal and familial redemption satirical? Or sentimental? Are readers to take Franzen’s turnabout from skepticism as sincere? Or as an ironic laceration of all parties concerned? Has the path been made straight, the error rectified, the character reformed, the illness cured? The narrator notes that “The sorry fact seemed to be that life without Alfred in the house was better for everyone but Alfred” (564). That the Lamberts purchase a renewed sense of “home” and the freedom to redefine identity at the cost of the patriarch would seem to place the novel’s seal on a postpatriarchal model of the family. Yet the ambivalence of Franzen’s tone, and the fact that he chooses Enid for the central consciousness in the section, is telling. It is Enid who, for the smallness of her mind, the provinciality of her desires, and her insensitivity to her children’s needs, has been the broadest target of Franzen’s satire prior to this closing. Enid’s breezy satisfaction undercuts the tragedy of Alfred’s physical, mental, and moral demise, in favor of demonstrating enthusiasm for the fulfilled American promise of self-invention. Yet she seems an unreliable perspective from which to offer the last word on fatherhood as, finally, a fairly disposable function. The hastiness and apparent calm of Franzen’s closure, when juxtaposed to the extended comical sturm und drang of the characters’ battles with themselves and each other, underscores the indeterminacy of the final tone, suggesting that the serenity may be as satirical as the overwrought comic melodramas that came before. If so, Franzen backpedals from the insights to which the novel draws in favor of some unexpected, if mostly buried, nostalgia for what the family has lost, or, really, never possessed. In this regard, I agree with Jeremy Green’s judgment that “As a satirist, Franzen is essentially conservative” (114).21 Franzen provides a framework for the disjunctions in tone when Chip, suddenly grasping why his first attempt at a screenplay failed miserably, recalls an allusion to Marx’s oft-cited account in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852) of how history repeats itself: “tragedy rewritten as a farce,” he thinks; “he’d written a thriller where he should have written farce” (Corrections 534, italics in original). Taking his cue from the insight he gives to Chip, Franzen may have composed his family saga as a sort of second draft, the tragedy of the father’s fall repurposed as a farce, its real feeling conveniently erased. But even a farce bespeaks its origins in a standard of value. We might not find farce funny if we did not hold to a liberal faith in the ability of the autonomous self to improve—or correct—itself; we pledge faith in the freedom enabling us to rise above farcical behavior. Yet Franzen told an interviewer at the time his novel Freedom (2010) was published, that “much

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of the promise of radical self-invention, of defining yourself through this marvelous freedom of choice, it’s just a lie” (LaGambina). The fervor, or cynicism, of Franzen’s judgment thus betrays the degree to which his discovery that such freedom is a lie is disorienting and distressing to him. If so, the novel’s tragedy of disorder and disintegration lies restlessly beneath the veneer of satire. The father’s story really is not yet over.

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3 Middle-class America at Mid-century

If The Corrections epitomizes tragedy rewritten as farce, Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres (1991) epitomizes tragedy literally rewritten as domestic melodrama. Franzen’s Alfred Lambert may for some readers, as I have suggested, evoke Shakespeare’s King Lear, transported into the American Midwest. Critics have, however, unified into a standard view that Smiley’s novel adapts Lear to the same landscape, chiefly noting the subtle, subversive way she turns the play inside out to reveal, on the other side of the familial fabric, the damaging patriarchal assumptions that underlie Lear’s destruction of his household and patrimony. Smiley achieves her feminist rereading of Shakespeare’s play by shifting nearly every feature of it, geographical, temporal, and gendered, to new territory while retaining the basic plot and familial configurations. She displaces Lear to the American heartland in the 1970s, where, instead of the relative “objectivity” presented by dramatic form, the narrative offers as a homodiegetic narrator a female character heavily invested in the story, and where the father alone, not the daughters, is presented as the monstrous figure disrupting the familial and social order.1 The form and concerns of A Thousand Acres usefully frame the material in Chapter 3. The eight novels, by four writers, discussed in this chapter all subscribe to the premises of domestic realism and take as their subject matter the largely unremarkable lives of ordinary, middle-class Americans in varied, inherently undramatic locales within a mid-twentieth-century landscape. The scope of these novels is confined to the actions of family members and near acquaintances, within the home or a circumscribed arena—a college, a restaurant, an urban neighborhood, a farm, a rural community. These novels attend to the plain domestic details and textures of daily life, inward contemplation, and familial conflict that shape the psychologies and social conditions of their players. If Smiley’s novel presents a father all too present, acting the role of tyrant and unforgiving patriarch incapable of asserting anything but the law as he conceives it and blind to the damage he inflicts, Anne Tyler, in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant 51

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(1982) shows the ironic inverse, an invisible father who, by his absence, casts a shadow far larger and deeper than he might ever have cast in the flesh. Three novels from Philip Roth’s late Nemesis tetralogy, Everyman (2006), Indignation (2008), and Nemesis (2010), explore fathers who love too much or too little and sons who are passive, angry, or self-abnegating. The men’s failures are inscribed within Roth’s late, austere prose style in relation to the dominant fiction of masculinity whose particular lineaments derive from a mid-twentieth-century image of an idealized figure of fatherly competence. The chapter closes with another trilogy. In Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead (2004), Home (2008), and Lila (2014), the meditative, lyrical style within which Robinson signals her preoccupation with the workings of grace does not conceal the profound failures of the patriarchs who are central to each narrative. While literalizing in their positions as clergymen the analogy between the biological, pastoral, and transcendental father embedded in the Christian conception of the patriarchal order, these figures resist or reject their responsibility to love, or even empathize with, the suffering sons committed to their care.

Jane Smiley and the Father Dethroned— A Thousand Acres In inscribing the narrative mode of domestic realism, A Thousand Acres shifts away from what David Brauner terms “Shakespeare’s mythic, apocalyptic melodrama” (“ ‘Speak Again’ ” 655). In doing so, Smiley accomplishes an act of parodic subversion, deconstructing Shakespeare’s “master text” (Strehle 212) in a gesture that radically destabilizes the master narrative of patriarchy in the United States, especially insofar as that ideology was built upon land ownership, profitability, and the domestic role of women. In largely ecofeminist readings, both Susan Strehle and Mary Paniccia Carden point out how, by demonstrating the figurative and ethical linkages between a rapacious father and the despoliation of the fertile farmland of Iowa, Smiley accomplishes several aims. She recuperates the agency of women beyond the father’s control, exposing the connection of “the patriarch’s story to national myths of identity and value that erase women and authorize their abuse” (Strehle 215). And she re-encodes the land, gendering it “as representative of the maternal feminine” (Carden 191) to save it from the fate of being no more than a “fatherland” (189). My aim, however, is to press for an interpretation that goes somewhat against the grain of much of the excellent analysis that has been done on A Thousand Acres. The nuanced feminist-deconstructionist readings tend toward a sense of uplift, however provisional, in reading the arc of the narrative. Strehle’s argument, for example, follows the narrator Ginny Cook

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from her suppressed daughterly responses to her father, Larry, and her choice to remain invisible, through her recovered memory of his incestuous sexual abuse of her, toward her discovery of a voice, visibility, and resistance. Strehle’s analysis is especially nuanced in teasing out the shifts in Ginny’s textual voice that parallel the development of her independent selfhood, from plain-speaking “docility” (219), as a narrator who is “anonymous, transparent, without a definitive point of view” (221), to a woman whose style becomes “blunt” (223). Strehle sees Ginny’s voice “transformed into the weapon of her resistance” (224), thus enabling her to reject the personal history that her father, by way of “the logic of patriarchy” (225), has previously inscribed for her. Carden’s argument is equally directed toward the ethical elevation the novel accomplishes. She proposes that A Thousand Acres means “to unsettle American nostalgia for its mythical Rockwellianhued past, tracking destructive gender-power dynamics to their roots in a not-at-all ‘placed’ historical vision of the American Heartland” (182). Carden asserts that Ginny is an agent looking “back on her family’s place in American space,” finding beyond the male gendering of the farmland constructed by the language of the father’s law a “specifically maternal space, a forgotten, alternate landscape and discourse that undermines the foundation of the father’s authority” (185). Although Carden grants that “Smiley leaves Ginny’s future unclear,” she finds within the character’s selfreinvention a fundamental critique of “the cultural, familial, and individual amnesias produced and maintained by the discourses of the nation” (198). Without disputing these insights, I would suggest an additional layer of meaning that renders the celebratory view of the novel’s implications less certain. In this regard, I follow Brauner’s observation of “an unresolved tension within Ginny between the desire to penetrate the barriers of silence [. . .] and the fear that to do so would cause an irreparable breach in the fabric not only of her social world, but of herself” (“ ‘Speak Again’ ” 657). Those barriers of silence have been erected by a patriarch who has unashamedly and without resistance from his family of women assumed his position of power, and whose dominating presence is a source of familial discord and disruption. But even in her early accounts of Larry Cook, Ginny registers ambivalence. She recalls that “My earliest memories of him are of being afraid to look him in the eye, to look at him at all. He was too big and his voice was too deep”; yet she also notes that “his very fearsomeness was reassuring” (Smiley, Thousand Acres 19). She paints her father as a figure larger than life, nearly divine: “Trying to understand my father had always felt something like going to church week after week and listening to the minister,” who would in his preaching finally admit that “reality was incomprehensible, and furthermore the failure of our understandings was the greatest proof of all [. . .] of power.” At the same time, Ginny regrets that “My mother died before she could present him to us as only a man, [. . .] before she could diminish him in our eyes enough for us to understand him.”

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When she concludes, “I wish we had understood him” (20), her ruefulness obliquely foreshadows her much later realization that he sexually abused both her and her sister Rose. To have dared to understand him would have dethroned him and perhaps protected both daughters from his violation. But she realizes that “I was, after all, my father’s daughter, and I automatically did believe in the unbroken surface of the unsaid” (94). She has accepted the silencing of the female that complements the father fantasy. Ginny has also accepted the “catechism” from her father that equates “man” with “a good farmer”: “A farmer is a man who feeds the world,” whose two duties are “[t]o grow more food [. . . and to] buy more land” (45), and who depends on no one. It is, then, one of Smiley’s main ironies that Larry fails in respect to his main values. This Smiley inherits from her source text. Larry, like Lear, is aging, and like all patriarchs consumed with fear over their patrilineal legacies, he focuses on the disposition of his property to the exclusion of concern for his progeny, whom he considers at best as belonging to that property. Yet once he begins to transfer his land to his daughters, he begins to resemble Samson under the scissors of Delilah; his power leaks away from him with his property, which in turn undergoes economic threat, the next generation unable to maintain its unity and financial solvency as Larry did. In this economic sense, the farmland was the man, reversing the conventional trope of the land as feminine, to be tamed and mastered by men. Smiley makes the trajectory even more obvious in that Larry’s mental power declines in parallel to the decline of his physical and financial power to control the land. His behavior becomes increasingly erratic, as if the threat of impotence exacerbates his mean-spiritedness and narcissism. Larry is unmasked as his devotion to the image of man as farmer, an image he can no longer support, is increasingly revealed to rest more on his desire to feed his ego than to feed the world. Once he loses his land, produces no more food, and becomes dependent on others, his subjectivity is vacated. By the time the suit he brings with his youngest daughter, Caroline, against Ginny and Rose over possession of the farm comes to court, he appears completely incoherent, like Franzen’s Alfred Lambert the victim of dementia, and he dies of a heart attack just five days after the suit concludes in his two daughters’ favor. Without the property that for him defines a patrimony, Larry is literally no longer a man. As in The Corrections, the household and family structure of A Thousand Acres disintegrate most fully when the father loses his rational capacities, and that multidimensional dissipation also allegorizes the broader socioeconomic shifts in mid-century American culture that remain unresolved well into the next century. It is noteworthy that, a decade before Franzen, Smiley zeroed in on the dementia of the paterfamilias as the symbolic representation of his lost potency.2 Larry’s punishment—his dethronement from the patriarchal position—serves the narrative’s ethical purposes well. His removal from the central place in his familial and social

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world, however just, nevertheless unleashes chaos within the world he leaves behind him. It is a chaos from which Smiley does not choose to relieve her characters. The knowledge silenced under the patriarchal cloak of secrecy, once uncovered, puts the characters into the condition of a fully fallen world, and Smiley’s plotting takes on the qualities of a soap opera. Not only is Larry before his death irrevocably alienated from Ginny and Rose, but all of the family members, too, are alienated from one another, or worse. Caroline is permanently estranged from both her older sisters. Ginny and her conservative husband, Ty, split up, because Ginny has for a time had an affair with the novel’s returned Prodigal Son,3 the Cooks’ neighbor, Jess Clark, whose contributions to the new disorder in Zebulon County include his desire to move the land toward organic farming. Ty is ultimately forced to leave farming, to which he has been passionately committed. Rose’s husband, Pete, drowns in a quarry, an apparent suicide; his drunkenness and abuse of Rose come to light, as does his responsibility for the accident that blinds Harold Clark, Jess’s father, in an act of sabotage that he aimed at Larry, whom he blamed for all the strife in their family. Rose, Ginny learns, has also had an affair with Jess, and Ginny plots revenge against her sister. In an act that seems more in keeping with an Elizabethan revenge tragedy than a novel of domestic realism set in Iowa, Ginny concocts a poison sausage to kill her sister, though she does not follow through and instead confesses to Rose. They agree that they do not trust each other, and Rose, who in fact is dying of one of the many cancers that Larry’s industrialized fertilization of the land promoted, concludes sardonically that “ ‘We’re going to be angry until we die. It’s the only hope’ ” (354). The farm family disintegrated, the land split up, the house boarded up, the members dispossessed—no home, no stability, no happiness to speak of remains. Because Smiley writes the novel in the mode of domestic realism, the reader is drawn into some degree of sympathy for the characters, and so the closing of A Thousand Acres may seem very dark. In King Lear, Shakespeare offers an audience little reason to care about Goneril and Regan, whose selfish presence functions largely to prick Lear on toward his fateful errors. Smiley, however, by focusing on the inner life especially of the narrator, gives the daughters subjectivity, psychological depth, and purpose—their resistance to their father is motivated in complex ways. But that also means that the world that has been rent partly by their choices and actions remains in tatters. I do not mean to suggest that all the changes wrought in the narrative by the expulsion of the father are problematic, or unethical, or unearned—some, such as Jess’s interest in turning the land toward organic farming or Ginny’s hard-won independence, seem welcome. But a number of the consequences are tragic, and left unredeemed in Smiley’s plotting. This postpatriarchal chaos constitutes the “irreparable breach in the fabric” that Ginny anticipates, as Brauner argues, which makes her hesitate to speak

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out of the silence, to become visible, to come to know her father—and thus herself and her history—more fully. Indeed, as he suggests, one might see the novel’s ending not as uplifting, but “in its own way, as bleak as that of Shakespeare’s play” (“ ‘Speak Again’ ” 666). The tyrant is gone, and no one sits on the throne—Smiley’s powerful critique of the oppressive patriarchal system is complete—but there is no order, either. Ginny’s final act is a purging, as she grinds the poison sausages and sauerkraut meant for Rose in the kitchen disposal and thinks “I had a burden lift off me that I hadn’t even felt the heaviness of until then, and it was the burden of having to wait and see what was going to happen” (Smiley 367). This is the sort of open ending that modernism has taught us to value—to face an uncertain future, if not with hope, then at least calmly reconciled to the unknown. Certainly, I do not propose that Smiley should have offered the return of such a paternal tyrant to fill the gap, or his order. Such a solution would have been wholly disjunctive with the rest of the novel. But she imagines no real alternative, either.

Anne Tyler: The Domestic Comedy of Home Economics and Homesickness—Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant If Smiley’s Midwestern rural realism hinges on land ownership as the socioeconomic basis of the family, its strife, and the father’s authority within it, it is home economics, as it were, that lie at the root of Anne Tyler’s middleclass urban realism in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, published a decade before A Thousand Acres. Tyler’s novel also opposes Smiley’s narrative mode; where Smiley wreaks a melodrama from Shakespeare’s tragedy, Tyler presents a quirky, often rueful, domestic comedy. Tyler’s novel in this regard seems embedded within an alternative literary history, perhaps drawn from the tradition of the English realist novel. Writing about late nineteenth-century fiction, Roger B. Henkle, for example, notes how “comedy was coming to be [closely involved] with the everyday problems of middle class life, how comedy had gradually shifted in the nineteenth century from a corrective and sometimes reductive mode to one that helped its readers survive the traumas of change and insecurity” (174).4 Such domestic comedy, far from belittling its targets and allowing its audience to remain in a superior position to the comic figures, permits us a gentle, bemused humor at our own anxieties and foibles as reflected in them. This is a useful strategy to defuse a reader’s disquiet over the cultural change a fiction represents. Not only does Tyler’s mode of representation differ from Smiley’s, but also the configurations of Tyler’s novel seem to invert the portrait of the father figure in A Thousand Acres. Unlike Larry Cook, Beck Tull, the father

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in Tyler’s novel, is anything but a dominant patriarchal presence, and in fact is wholly absent for much of the novel and most of his children’s lives. While A Thousand Acres somewhat briefly probes the daughters’ memories of losing a mother who died too young, Tyler’s matriarch, Pearl Tull, presides fearsomely in both the flesh and memory over the children and the narrative structure of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. In common, however, each novel shows three children, as in Franzen’s Corrections, struggling to compensate in their choices and their construction of selfhood for the comparably toxic effects of the father’s presence or absence in the family structure. In Tyler’s novel, Pearl and her children—two sons and a daughter— seek to achieve some form of the social and familial order that they feel lacking because of the father’s absence, especially by configuring within their own identities notions of masculinity, domesticity, and nurturance.5 Ironically, however, what they seek to replace is an order that never existed. To a large extent, Tyler imagines these attempts in relation to how each family member conceptualizes and engages the notion of “home,” a concept highlighted in the transposition she performs in the novel’s title to point toward “homesickness.” As Alice Hall Petry remarks, the titular “homesick” has plural significations—connoting, alternatively, “sick for home” (longing for what is absent, including a sense of security), “sick of home” (“yearning to break free of [its] strictures”), or “sick from home” (made ill as a result of home) (Petry 186, italics in original). Each of the family members left behind suffers to one degree or another from all of these versions of homesickness, but perhaps the most significant shared symptom is how the concept of “home” upon which these effects depend is itself a phantom. “Home” is always a construct that in the case of Tyler’s American scene is formed in relation to the idealized image of the white nuclear family, living together in harmony and prosperity—the fanciful creatures of an American dream. Indeed, one might argue that “home” is always a fantasy, also implied by the way in which nostalgia, etymologically the longing to return home, is, as I summarized in Chapter 1, “a longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed” and “a sentiment of loss and displacement, but [. . .] also a romance with one’s own fantasy” (Boym xiii). Tyler almost immediately conveys in her presentation of Beck Tull that the ideal of home is a nostalgic invention. The novel’s chapters circulate from one to the next among the perspectives of all of the family members except, notably, Beck, often in free indirect discourse. Beck is thus first described from Pearl’s focalized, understandably partial point of view. But even allowing for Pearl’s resentful construction of a memory of the husband who abandoned her, Beck shows himself as demonstrably unreliable with respect to his paternal duties. Apparently largely sick of home, he announces out of the blue one night that “he didn’t want to stay married” (Tyler, Homesick 7), after which he simply walks out on the family. Given his capriciousness, Beck could hardly anchor a stable notion of home, even had he remained.

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Nevertheless, Tyler represents repeated efforts to fill the gap left by the absent father and to reconstruct a “home.” The first attempts are all on Pearl’s side, since Beck abandoned her when the children were young, leaving her not only to tend to their developing personalities but also to cope with the material consequences of her plight as an unsupported single mother in Baltimore in the mid-1940s. Her crisis is defined by home economics. Pearl is capable and resigned, thinking after an averted health crisis, “of course she wouldn’t have died; she had children. When you have children, you’re obligated to live” (27–28). At the same time, Pearl’s relationship to her role is at best ambivalent; she in no way constructs her motherhood according to an ideologically approved, mid-century American prescription. She works hard to support her children but is far from nurturing—she is a “nonfeeder,” as Cody thinks of her (162). Pearl is prone to rage against her children with both verbal and physical abuse, at one point calling them “ ‘Parasites,’ ” and snarling, shockingly, “‘I wish you’d all die, and let me go free. I wish I’d find you dead in your beds’ ” (53). Yet she also remains for some time in surprisingly fond denial that Beck might be gone permanently. She thinks angrily of him as “The invisible man. The absent presence,” yet eagerly awaits his infrequent letters, until at last she realizes the disjunction between her longing for his return and her feeling that “the man she still mourned [. . .] bore no relation whatsoever to the man who sent [her] tiresome messages” (19). She seems to have subscribed uncritically to the fantasy of a nuclear family that could only be complete with a husband/father at the head of it, a fantasy that she sees at last as inconsonant with Beck’s reality. Tyler stacks the deck against Beck in that he alone among the family members does not get a voice in the text—not even the focalized indirect discourse afforded to the others. Apart from Pearl’s account of him, the reader has little access to Beck as an agent with subjectivity. He functions, therefore, as a mystery or cipher in the center of the text until he appears at the close of the novel. Tyler’s formal strategy enables the children, like Pearl, to react to a flattened, diffuse image of the father function that spurs them toward defining their own identities around a model of fatherhood that is at once mythic and insubstantial. Although they conceptualize that function in rather different ways, the children have in common what Joseph Wagner calls a “father hunger” (75). Their response to that hunger follows the psychoanalytic narrative Freud outlined of the family romance, making “father” as much a supplementary fantasy in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant as “home.” Each child reconstitutes an inflated image of the father, nothing like the real father who abandoned the family, to guide his or her own behaviors. Specifically, each child constructs a version of fatherhood whose authority offers a protective model of home economics operating within the ritualized activities of the idealized nuclear family.

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Cody, the eldest, imagines compensating for the lack produced by Beck’s absence in terms of manhood constructed according to a mid-century American notion of material success in the working world—not unlike Franzen’s Gary Lambert. Viewing “home” as “pinched and starved” (Homesick 41), Cody has dreams during his adolescence of himself as a “toddler” whose “smallness colored every act; he was conscious of a desperate need to learn to manage, to take charge of his surroundings.” Cody imagines a future in which his father returns so that Cody can tell him, “ ‘Notice [. . .] how far I’ve come without you’ ” (47, italics in original). Because he understands “how far I’ve come” to equate with prosperity, he joylessly pursues his work as an “efficiency expert” (83), a career that makes literal his need to define his masculinity in terms of management and authority within the mid-century American economy. His conception of masculinity adheres to a ruthless model of competition, which he initiates during his childhood in relation to his brother, Ezra, on whom he repeatedly plays cruel jokes. Cody cheats and exploits, even to the point of stealing the woman Ezra has fallen in love with. For all his financial success, however, “wicked, funny Cody” (70) remains, like Gary Lambert, anhedonic—he presents a “[l]ack of ability to enjoy himself” (164), an acquaintance tells him—and with his wife, Ruth, the woman he has taken from Ezra, produces a son who, like him, “lacked gaiety” (185). Cody’s attempt to compensate for Beck’s absence in his life by clinging to a definition of masculinity that abides by the corporate model of capitalism merely reproduces the same dissatisfaction and sense of lack for the next generation; indeed, Pearl thinks that Cody’s “very absence was a characteristic, perhaps his main one” (32). As a result, his son, Luke, projects his own family romance by imagining that his real father is Cody’s younger brother, Ezra, whom Luke finds far more nurturing than Cody. Whereas Cody looks to economic success as a standard of manliness to supplement the missing authority of the father, Jenny, the Tulls’ only daughter, institutionalizes an idealized image of home by turning the mother’s function into a job. After she leaves for college, Jenny increasingly keeps geographical distance between herself and her family and then safely displaces her performance of a parental function into the career of a professional nurturer when she becomes a pediatrician—reminiscent of Franzen’s Denise Lambert, who takes on food preparation as a profession. An “orderly, conscientious girl” (69), she is motivated by her perception of Pearl as representing a grotesque version of motherhood. While Jenny “couldn’t picture [Beck’s] face and had little recollection of the time before he’d left them,” she has a recurrent dream during her youth of her mother as a witchlike figure, “accus[ing] her of sins and crimes that had never crossed Jenny’s mind,” handing her over to Nazis, and threatening her daughter with a fate out of a fairy tale: in her dream, her mother tells her “that she was raising Jenny to eat her” (70). That is, Jenny’s response to her father’s

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absence is to view her mother as filling the vacuum with the archetypal figure, identified by feminist scholars, of the woman as monster.6 She thus enacts her sense of domestic space largely through a desire for escape from it, and from the role played by her mother, into an ideologically orthodox version of “masculine” competence, transposed into a career that she can follow as a woman. The figure of the mother is thus, for Jenny, inextricable from, but also subsequent to, an idealized figure of fatherhood to which she implicitly compares Pearl. She seems to subscribe to an ideology accepting the rightful authority of a patriarchal figure—a mythic image of the father she never really knows—who might counteract the monstrous mother, were he only present. This image accords with the role she chooses for herself of the physician who tends professionally to children, as she capitalizes on how, increasingly, women’s work outside the home was becoming socially acceptable. It is a role that allows her to practice “womanly” virtues while securing financial independence, maintaining the traces of a “feminine” commitment to health in the domestic sphere. At the same time, however, Jenny serially seeks a husband who will both complement and approve her inscription of her female identity and preside over the economy of the home; she does not leave the idealized paradigm of the heteronormative nuclear family behind. Tyler makes visible how Jenny unwittingly accepts the principle of patriarchal power when she chooses as her first husband a man whose behavior and beliefs parody that principle. Harley Baines is rigid, distant, and pretentious; he commands Jenny, for example, regarding how many chews per bite she should give her food and “advanc[es] the project of marriage like a corporation merger” (105). When this model of marriage fails her, Jenny, during a subsequent time of duress, finds herself reproducing with her own young daughter an echo of Pearl’s physical violence against the Tull children; she concludes, “Was this what it came to—that you never could escape?” (214). Clearly sick of and from home, Jenny confronts the potential for the monstrous mother within herself and, like Cody in reenacting his father fantasy, finds no exit. In her third marriage, Jenny appears to move toward an alternative enactment of home, but not only is it as extreme in its own way as the homes she has chosen to leave behind, it also fundamentally reenacts the ideological configurations of her prior attempts. In Jenny’s last marriage, in fact, Tyler demonstrates the central contradictions the character embodies, captured in Pearl’s insight that Jenny was “opaque, a reflecting surface flashing your own self back at you, giving no hint of her self” (32, italics in original). Jenny marries a “massive, blond, bearded bear of a man” (192) whose wife has abandoned him and his children; Tyler thereby invokes and inverts Beck’s abandonment of his family. Jenny’s husband Joe performs a serene but unmistakably “manly” version of fatherhood. She meets him when she makes a house call to look after his sick child; Tyler exposes the

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binary gendering governing Jenny, like Cody, when Jenny humorously describes the scene she finds: “ ‘Picture it [. . .] Joe in an apron. Joe mixing Similac. Well, he was lost, of course’ ” (192–93). That is, Joe carves out the image of the father incapable of fulfilling the woman’s nurturing capabilities, exaggerating the need for stereotypically female ministrations in that he brings a half-dozen stepchildren to his marriage with Jenny. In effect, Jenny’s third marriage at once forces and permits her to be the ideologically reactionary figure of maternal domesticity she never experienced in Pearl, as compensation for the likewise constraining fantasy of fatherhood hovering over Beck’s absence. Tyler’s most radical, and yet paradoxically perhaps most conservative, portrait appears in the third Tull child, Ezra. If Cody seeks to fulfill a fantasy of father-as-provider, and Jenny seeks to fulfill a fantasy of an independent, fatherly mother, Ezra’s response to fatherlessness is to become a motherly man, according to the nostalgic fantasy of the duties the woman in the home was expected to perform in mid-century America. But whereas Cody and Jenny can only begin their projects of reconstituting the family home by escaping their Baltimore origins, “mild Ezra,” as Pearl thinks of him (32), does not detach “home” from its literal locale, the site of the originary lack, where Beck is always already absent and Pearl reigns. Ezra is governed mainly by being sick for home; in more than one sense, he goes nowhere.7 From a young age, Ezra is, as Jenny recognizes, “always so quick to catch his family’s moods, and to offer food and drink and unspoken support” (73)—that is, to fill the stereotypically feminized role of the nurturer, especially conceived in relation to material sustenance. He subsequently, therefore, attaches himself to a restaurant—Scarlatti’s—and its proprietor, Mrs. Scarlatti, as surrogate home and mother, and when he is drafted into the army, it is the restaurant that he identifies with homesickness, not his home with Pearl (71). Ezra associates the preparation and serving of food with the most fundamental domestic performance of the familial bond. When Mrs. Scarlatti dies, leaving the restaurant to him, Ezra literalizes the idea of homesickness by naming the restaurant after the concept. Ezra thus commits himself to the role of motherliness, taking on the position of “feeder” that, as Cody noted, Pearl never filled; indeed, one of Cody’s girlfriends contemptuously classifies Ezra among the ranks of “motherly men” (134). His shaping of the restaurant’s menu and social place constitutes a vision of home economics writ large, as he extends the maternal act beyond the nuclear family, which he never forms for himself as an adult, into the community as a whole. His aim is to “cook what people felt homesick for” (124)—to create “ ‘a place where people come just like to a family dinner,’ ” where “ ‘everything will be solid and wholesome, really homelike’ ” (75). Yet by addressing in such concrete terms the lack of home he and his siblings experience, Ezra also panders to the very nostalgia that entraps them in familial models that fail to satisfy them.

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The comic dimension of Tyler’s domestic realism becomes most visible in her presentation of Ezra’s aspects of the narrative.8 The young woman who calls him “motherly” also zeroes in on his essential contradiction: “ ‘Always feeding, hovering, [. . .] but acting so clumsy and shy, in the end it’s you that takes care of [him]’” (134, italics in original). Ezra’s gestures toward nourishing others reveal his anxious desire for his own comfort, for him to be recognized in a way that his father never stayed to recognize and protect him. His ideal of the “family dinner” as the standard of homeliness leads to the central absurd comedy in Tyler’s narrative structure: the repeatedly disrupted, unfinished dinners in which Ezra tries to bring together the disparate members of his family in his own restaurant. “Dinner,” the titular concept and metonymy for Ezra for “home,” becomes with respect to the Tull family an infinitely deferred signifier for familial unity and coherence. The comedy of the thwarted dinner scene lies in part in its repetition— like any good gag, it gains humor with the reader’s expectation derived from previous iterations of the scene—but also in the way Tyler uncovers the disjunctions between the meaning Ezra ascribes to the commensal family dinner and its actualities, coupled with his stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge the counterintuitive threat these dinners pose to his idealizations. Cody observes Ezra’s resistance to the evidence that the family dinners underscore the Tull family’s dissension and disarray rather than its unity. Cody wonders sardonically, “Hadn’t Ezra noticed [. . .] that the family as a whole had never yet finished one of his dinners? That they’d fight and stamp off halfway through, or sometimes not even manage to get seated in the first place? Well, of course he must have noticed, but was it clear to him as a pattern, a theme?” (157, italics in original). The disjunction between meaning and fact becomes especially clear with the narration of the final, climactic dinner. Tyler neatly frames the novel as a whole with Pearl’s death. The first chapter, focalized within Pearl’s awareness, opens with her on her deathbed as she revisits her past, and the final chapter narrates her funeral, for which occasion Ezra has at last brought Beck back to visit the family and join them in what Ezra hopes will be a mythic family dinner, much as Franzen’s Enid Lambert puts her faith in her Christmas family reunion. Instead, Beck turns the climax of a family romance into a comic anticlimax. In Beck’s reappearance after so many years, Tyler achieves the greatest irony with respect to the image of fatherhood. Tyler focalizes the final chapter from Cody’s point of view, perhaps to disclose the maximum disappointment from the character who most tries to imitate an ideologically sanctioned notion of fatherhood. The language of the chapter refers several times to Beck not by name but as the “old man,” preparing for his exposure as a weak, foolish, inept figure, presenting no image to his children of charisma or authority. He is awkward with the assembled relatives, misjudging his comments and absurdly seeming to think his children might

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congratulate him for their own successes. As Jenny says, “ ‘If I just saw him on the street, [. . .] I would have passed him by’ ” (295). If throughout the narrative, Beck has loomed as the absent presence around whose mystery all the members of his family have shaped their identities, in the concluding scene Tyler depicts him as no more than a present absence, the empty signifier “father.” Tyler reinforces this reconfigured image of fatherhood when Cody sharply rebukes Beck by telling the story of an analogously absent father, whose wife Cody interprets as asserting that “ ‘He wasn’t ever there, you see, so he didn’t count. He wasn’t part of the family’ ” (303). Beck responds by repeating his vanishing act, disappearing from the dinner. He thus provides a final comic repetition, once again ruining Ezra’s plan to achieve a still moment of homeliness in the turning world of the family around the common table. Beck confesses to Cody, who has gone in search for him, that Pearl wore him out, “ ‘[u]sed up my good points” (307). He reveals, at last, the damning but pitiful explanation for his leaving that, when Pearl nearly dies from an infected wound in her shoulder, from an arrow Ezra accidentally shot at her, he could no longer face fulfilling his unpredictable responsibilities toward his family.9 Beck uselessly excuses his sustained absence by explaining that some time later, he reappeared in Baltimore, intending to return, but recognized Cody on the street and “ ‘saw that you could live without me. [. . .] You were going to turn out fine’ ” (309). Tyler’s irony is that Beck is right, insofar as the enactment of fatherhood he might have offered would have been inadequate to fulfill his children’s desires for a conventional patriarchal role model. Cody has the epiphany that, like many sons missing their fathers, “all he had been striving for [. . .was] one brief moment of respect flitting across his father’s face” (298). Cody’s recognition here, which allows him at last to shrug off his father, stands for all of the children. It may also, perhaps, stand for the reader, since if Tyler had given access to Beck’s inner life earlier in the novel, we could readily have dismissed him. Doing so would have undercut the earnestness and validity of each sibling’s quest to fill the gap Beck left behind, however. While Tyler conveys considerable affection for these characters, even in their misplaced efforts, the belated view she offers of how so much sound and fury developed to recover a sense of home that never existed partakes of a rather cruel irony, even as it draws our attention to how misplaced are the beliefs in a system of paternal authority that drive such efforts toward reconstruction. Tyler’s narrative structure underscores this irony by its temporal ordering, as well. As Joseph Voelker sensitively argues, the novel’s presentation of chronology, with almost every chapter “located in the memory of a single character [. . . establishes] a dramatic present, a ‘meditating time,’ and then loop[s] backward in memory to recall past events in ‘meditated time’ ” (Voelker 131). This recursive structure of memory and event allows Tyler to

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devise “an incremental series of still moments” (136) embedded in a narrative time that is alternately circular and linear. Voelker analyzes the novel’s temporality especially in order to pose Ezra’s primary experience of time’s circularity, with the promise of a sacramental moment (138), against Cody’s primary experience of an objective, linear, historical time of practical, mechanistic outcomes. I would extend Voelker’s analysis, however, toward its gendered implications. Ezra, already encoded by his acts and desires as feminized, unsurprisingly with respect to the binary gender codes might experience the circularity of time.10 Likewise, Cody, who thrusts himself toward a coded version of mid-century American masculinity, would conceptualize his temporal experience in a linear fashion. It is thus especially telling that Tyler drives the linear narrative toward the scene of Cody’s frank reckoning with Beck at the close of the novel. If the temporal pattern associated with the patriarchal model of fatherhood is organized according to the unidirectional linearity of patrilineage, then the position of this final scene in the narrative ought to incorporate the masculinist character, Cody, into a climactic moment. In particular, it should represent the ritual passing on of authority from father to his eldest son and heir, in order to fulfill the symbolic familial line of rightful descent. Tyler constructs such a scene, but only in the most backhanded and fruitless way; it satisfies the requirement of patrilineage according to the letter but not the spirit. Yes, Cody is Beck’s eldest son, and Beck affirms Cody’s maturity and success—“ ‘You were going to turn out fine’ ”—but there is no passing of a baton, so to speak, because Beck has no authority to pass on. Yet Cody, well aware of the paternal lack that continues unabated, nevertheless in something of an abrupt about-face, reconciles himself to the family that remains in the present. Reengaging the circularity of narrative, Cody seeks contentment in a memory of the moment just before the arrow hit his mother to trigger the family’s dissolution. At the level of form, then, Tyler seems to have it both ways—a dispersed family and no reconstructed image of fatherhood that works, but no dire consequences, and no real change to imply that reconstruction is necessary. Pearl, the figure who knit the family together, however unhappily, is gone. Beck is back but no more present than he ever was, and soon on his way offstage again. Jenny is absorbed into an enormous family and career that inescapably trap her in conventional motherhood. Ezra’s dinner is still, like the trajectory of his life, permanently in hiatus, never to be completed. Cody, at least in passing, seems to commit himself to his own son (“He would rather die than desert a child of his. He had promised himself when he was a boy” [305]), but then Tyler shows no gesture of follow-through toward Luke before Cody escapes into a fantasy of the family’s past wholeness. No one manages to bring a successful alternative familial model to light. Within Tyler’s comedy of domestic life, no one really seems to mind. Yet the fact that the absences are filled with apathy alone suggests that such things do matter.

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Philip Roth’s Late Fathers—Everyman, Indignation, Nemesis Both Tyler and Smiley anatomize families with multiple siblings, often seen in busy, conflictual interactions with one another and their parents throughout the course of their narratives. Philip Roth, however, narrows the focus to smaller families with one or at most two children, stranded in relative isolation from each other and their parents, and with little narrative space devoted to specifically domestic scenes. Indeed, the parent/child relationships, especially in Roth’s later novels, frame the narratives and the trajectories of the protagonists but do not dominate the storytelling space. Furthermore, much of Roth’s early-to-mid-career work is notable for its mordant humor and antic comic structures—what Alan Cooper calls Roth’s “Jewish sit-down comedy” (158).11 His late work, by contrast, swerves away from the comic toward an austere, often existentially tragic realism, far different in effect from both Tyler’s domestic comedy and Smiley’s domestic melodrama. In the first half of Roth’s career, he offered numerous father figures for the reader’s consideration, typically to show, from the sons’ viewpoint and at a bitterly ironic distance, how they either failed or thwarted the sons who wished only for the freedom to invent selves beyond the reach of outmoded, oppressive paternal values, cares, and judgments. Anguished sons railed against such fathers, if often to comic effect. A case in point is Nathan Zuckerman in The Ghost Writer (1979), a fiction writer whose father accuses him of a kind of sedition against the Jews for a story he’s published, leaving Nathan to conclude that his father thought “himself and all of Jewry gratuitously disgraced and jeopardized by my inexplicable betrayal” (Roth, Ghost 96). The father-surrogate Judge Wapter makes the case more brutally, notoriously asking Nathan, “Can you honestly say that there is anything in your short story that would not warm the heart of a Julius Streicher or a Joseph Goebbels?” (103–4). The Judge lays down the (Jewish) father’s law to satiric effect within a novel aligned with, if bemused by, Zuckerman’s viewpoint. But especially following Roth’s publication of his extraordinary memoir of his father’s final illness and death, Patrimony (1991), introduced in Chapter  1, he seems to have reached a turning point. By the end of his writing career, father figures become the source for Roth not of rage and accusation but of regret, grief, and nostalgia. Insofar as Roth depicts the fixed construction of the father figure as the undisputed authority within the nuclear, heteronormative family, his late fiction, especially that rooted in mid-century, middle-class American life, mourns these late fathers as casualties of a wrenching moment of cultural change. Roth seems to salute the conception of fatherhood that reached a late stage, or impasse, in

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American cultural history, in which fathers as we may have been trained to think of them are figuratively “late.” Roth’s latter-day representations of father figures appear in three of his final five novels—Everyman, Indignation, and Nemesis—all three appearing in the “Nemeses” tetralogy. These fathers are late productions within Roth’s oeuvre as well as moribund. Their conceptualization in his fiction seems to hinge on his yearning for the kind of masculine stolidity he finds on reflection in his own father as he composes his memoir. It is a construction of manhood based on Roth’s vivid, historically embedded memory. Patrimony’s account of Roth’s father’s decline in his late eighties moves inexorably toward death and toward Roth’s contemplation of the aching gap that his father’s absence leaves in his life. As his son presents him, Herman Roth exemplifies the ethos of the mid-century, post-immigrant Jewish family man. Roth marvels at his father’s “capacity for renunciation and iron selfdiscipline,” his “willpower” and “unswerving dutifulness toward those for whom he was responsible” (Roth, Patrimony 79). These characteristics distill an image of steadfast paternal virtue, as frustrating in its way as it is honorable. Roth presents his father as difficult or even comical, his vulnerabilities offset by moments of pointlessness and irrationality; he writes, “This was exactly the discrepancy that had made repudiating his authority such an oppressive conflict, as laden with grief as it was with scorn. He wasn’t just any father, he was the father, with everything there is to hate in a father and everything there is to love” (180, italics in original). He stands for his son, in all his contradictions, as an ideal that Roth emulates. Noting that Herman “could be a pitiless realist, but I wasn’t his offspring for nothing” (91), Roth might be describing his angle of vision in his fiction and in the memoir as well, as when, as I describe in Chapter 1, he concludes that his devoted act of cleaning his father when he accidentally befouls himself is his “patrimony” (176). These traits, too, constitute Herman’s patrimony for Philip. Roth grieves the passing of the man, but implicitly, too, what the man stood for. That is why, I think, he recounts at the memoir’s close a guilty dream about his father’s reproach for his own failure of filial piety, when he chooses to send his father to his grave, not in a business suit but in an ancestral shroud—“bizarrely outof-character [for] an urban earthling like my insurance-man father, a sturdy man rooted all his life in everydayness” (234). The ritual shroud, semiotically and ahistorically translating his father into a mythic patriarchal fold he never inhabited, erases the dependable, commonsensical, materially rooted modern self that was all his authority ever required. Roth’s meditation on his own “late father” may have inclined him to explore the possible failures, often historically inflected, that obtain in the father-child relationship. Herman Roth possesses for his son a “natural” authority, naturalized over centuries of practice and belief. Once the assumption of such authority erodes within the wider cultural practice, Roth finds that the father’s role in the filial bond contributes to individual

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and familial dysfunction. If the paternal function is to protect the child and, in Lacanian terms, to instill the law of the father that inserts the child into the social order, the father’s absence or diminishment subverts that process. Roth suggests that a son who lacks a Herman Roth for a father may be left damaged or adrift. It is even possible that a Herman Roth may no longer serve as an efficacious father, because the rules for responsible fatherhood are unsettled in a system beyond patriarchy. However justly males may have been dislodged from an unquestioned position of authority, Roth finds postpatriarchal sons unmoored. Although the historical decline in Herman Roth’s paternal authority runs parallel to that in American culture at large, a feature of his patrimony is how he stands for Philip as a Jewish father. Scholars have illuminated the history of Jewish masculinity, whose construction has followed a unique course in relation to the Diaspora as well as Talmudic expectations for the behavior of Jewish men, often constructing them as feminized when set against the non-Jewish, Western, masculinist paradigm.12 As Lawrence Fuchs argues, Jews have had a unique relationship with the patriarchal model, adding to the conventional father’s role as early as during the Middle Ages the duty to nurture children as well as teach and discipline them (75). But until relatively recently, the practice according to which Jewish men alone read the Torah or became rabbis allowed them to participate in “an exclusive male bonding system that puts men [. . .] in a special relationship to God,” sealing a sense of “fraternity” within the “Jewish patriarchal paradigm” (151). Fuchs observes, however, that especially during the postwar years, Jewish fathers were swept up within the larger social changes that saw the erosion of the patriarchal model within the American family, as men were drawn increasingly into the business of business, some fleeing the family altogether (115), and women were drawn out of the home into the community and became more active economic agents (143–44) as well as authorities for instruction and religion within the family (131–32). Roth deeply immerses himself within this world of change. Roth’s attraction to mid-century stories may be owing to the dates of his own life, since he was born in 1933. Still, it seems likely that, because much of his fiction takes up masculinity as a central subject, he is also attuned to the particular consequences of these social and ideological shifts for fathers and their children.13 Swede Levov of American Pastoral (1997) might therefore seem a fit starting point for inquiry, insofar as the novel’s central question concerns whether, despite his attempts to perform the ideal father’s nurturance and protections, the Swede’s blithe deafness to historical change may have been responsible for his daughter Merry’s radical violence. In the interests of keeping focus on patrilineage, however, as it constructs masculine identity across generations, I have chosen instead to look at how three novels of Roth’s “Nemeses” tetralogy, Everyman, Indignation, and Nemesis, illuminate the consequences of the postpatriarchal condition.

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Everyman does not dwell overtly on the paternal role or father-son relationship for many pages. It is notable, therefore, that in the third sentence of the novel—as, in a proleptic narrative strategy, family members gather around the grave of the unnamed protagonist (whom I will call Everyman)— Roth indicts the deceased’s performance of fatherhood. Present are his two middle-aged sons “from his turbulent first marriage, very much their mother’s children, who as a consequence knew little of him that was praiseworthy and much that was beastly and who were present out of duty and nothing more” (Roth, Everyman 1). In the long backstory that follows, Roth notes how Everyman’s sons are “the source of his deepest guilt” (93– 94), and the narrator, focalized within his perspective, in a close-third-person voice, concludes, “As a father, he was an impostor” (95). Still, he is so far from pursuing his paternal responsibilities with any degree of sincerity as to rationalize that, because he could not remain with their mother, he could have done nothing more for his sons. In one of the tetralogy’s epigrammatic, circular, Beckett-like, monosyllabic sentences, he thinks: “He had done what he did the way that he did it as they did what they did the way they did it” (94). Tellingly, Roth poses Everyman’s absence from his sons’ lives against Everyman’s father’s active presence in his own. Roth builds Everyman’s father on the model of Herman Roth; his ethos is based on the discipline and reliability of the mid-century business model: “ ‘Do the work, finish the job, and [. . .] come out fighting’ ” (24).14 Everyman’s longing for the values his father represents, from which he falls short, appears in his clinging to his father’s old watch (12). Passed between generations, the watch signifies patriarchal control over the order of time, including the traditional transfer of power through patrilineage.15 Such is the power Everyman lacks. He fails in the duty of patrilineal instruction, and the narrative’s relentless recounting of illness and loss demonstrates how the male body is the victim of time, not its master. Everyman thus arrives at a painfully tender conclusion at the novel’s end, when he visits his parents’ graves to revere the “bones in a box” (170), all that remains of them, and imagines, with regret, his father’s practical, moralizing, if not wholly consoling, admonition: “ ‘Look back and atone for what you can atone for, and make the best of what you have left’ ” (171). Hearing the voice of the Herman Roth father figure, Everyman can feel only that he has been a disappointment. In Everyman’s failure Roth wistfully diagnoses the decline of paternal function. Unremarkable Everyman is driven from the path of paternal righteousness by unremarkable desires. The conflict he embodies is consonant with much of Roth’s fiction, in which duty exists in tension with desire, a conflict he succinctly captures as early as 1974 in opposing the notion of the “Jewboy” to the “nice Jewish boy” (Roth, “In Response” 35). It is a conflict fundamental to Freud’s principle of repression in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), as well as Lacan’s concept of the Name-of-the-Father

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that, identified with the law, inserts the child into the constraints of the social order. Having pursued his desire across several unsuccessful marriages, Everyman resists his assigned place in the order; as a result, he finds that “decomposing families was his specialty” since he “robbed three children of a coherent childhood and the continuous loving protection of a father such as he himself had cherished” (157–58). In Indignation, however, published two years after Everyman, the “continuous loving protection of a father,” deformed within a world no longer addressed simply by Herman Roth’s credo of renunciation, selfdiscipline, and responsibility, lies at the root of Marcus Messner’s catastrophe, sending him to die in Korea. As in Everyman, a reference to fatherhood appears on Indignation’s first page in Mr. Messner’s presentation of the patriarchal code: “ ‘I worked for money [. . .] since I was ten years old,’ ” he tells his son (Roth, Indignation 1). In prose rhythms echoing Everyman’s father’s speech, he teaches Marcus that “you do what you have to do”— with the difference that Marcus claims, “That’s what I learned from my father and what I loved learning from him” (5). As Marcus seeks independence, however, Mr. Messner’s increasingly suffocating anxiety for his safety devolves into “surveillance,” until Marcus determines that “I had to get away from him before I killed him” (9). The oedipal narrative of resistance to paternal authority is exacerbated by socioeconomic conditions; even as Mr. Messner is preparing Marcus to follow him into his butcher shop, fewer customers are in want of the kosher meat he laboriously prepares. With his business on the decline, coupled with Marcus’s drift away from the family circle through higher education, Mr. Messner responds to the larger threat of postwar social mobility that will leave him behind, with his obsolescent code of value, as the economy shifts from ownership of small businesses to white-collar work. Hard work alone, he finds, is apparently not enough in the developing world of postwar America.16 Mr. Messner’s anxiety thus signals his growing impotence. Marcus signifies his initial complacency with his own place within the patriarchal order when he notes that he always referred to his father as “ ‘the boss in the store’ ” (136, italics added). He therefore registers a sense of loss when he later “remember[s] my father as he’d once been—as he’d always been—back in those unimperiled, unchanging days when everybody felt safe and settled in his place” (142). With piercing irony, Roth shows that Marcus’s tireless enactment of his father’s values unwittingly precipitates his disastrous fate. Despite entertaining desires that challenge his father’s code, he is as unprepared as his father to withstand the cultural change he thinks he longs for. He commits himself doggedly to his studies, aspiring to be Winesburg College’s valedictorian because “I wanted to do everything right” in order to justify his parents’ sacrifices and his own escape from his father’s surveillance—to free himself of the “strong, stolid father suddenly stricken with uncontrollable fear for a grown-up son’s well-being” (34–35). But, caught like Everyman

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and other Roth protagonists between the temptation to be the “Jewboy” and the duty to be a “nice Jewish boy,” both his fierce devotion to schoolwork and, contrarily, the pleasures proscribed by the paternal work ethic trip Marcus up.17 The performance of neither role can save him. When he obsesses about his sexual encounter with Olivia Hutton, the taboo desires welling up terrify him, only for him to conclude, “I was my father. I hadn’t left him back in New Jersey” (68, italics in original). And when Marcus shifts rooms to shed his disruptive roommates, the sanctimonious fathersurrogate, Dean Caudwell, accuses him of being antisocial—of not, that is, “doing everything right” because, in privileging study over community in inflexible obeisance to the paternal code, he has failed to read the local culture. Marcus’s dedication to his schoolwork is an artifact of the Jewish patriarchal model, whereby men had the role of “guardians of the religious culture of the Jews,” especially insofar as fathers had the “responsibility to teach Torah to their children, especially their sons” (Fuchs 70). The Jewish patriarchal function explicitly required deep textual study so as to pass on learning through the generations and thereby maintain a Jewish tradition across the Diaspora—a function Roth makes especially ironic in Marcus’s escape to gentile Ohio and refusal to identify himself there as a Jew.18 To make matters worse, the Dean needles Marcus to suggest that he has been intolerant of his “ ‘loving, hardworking father’ ” (Indignation 104). The Dean’s accusation appears as a projection of the father’s immutable law, exacting its price. Roth makes explicit that Marcus sees the Dean as a paternal surrogate when he thinks, “I was a straight-A student—why wasn’t that enough for all my unsatisfiable elders (by whom I meant two, the dean and my father)?” (90, italics in original). As in a Greek tragedy, the transgressions Marcus hopes to deflect doom him. He seeks to evade the punishment for transgression against the father’s law he repeatedly imagines: to be “thrown out of school [. . .] to be drafted and killed” (130; see also 47, 88, 107). Pushed to his limit, however, the insult Marcus “impulsively” hurls at the Dean—a very modern “ ‘fuck you’ ” (192) that slips out as if an irruption of his newly-discovered id—flouts paternal authority. Coupled with Marcus’s disobedience when he hires a substitute for his chapel attendance, his infraction brings a fatherly wrath down upon him and indeed expels him from school to fight in Korea. His father’s real fears of Marcus’s potential to transgress, joined with the Dean’s substitutive paternal condemnations, elicit a mock version of an angry God’s vengeance against the human sinner. Roth makes the point almost too plain when he concludes the Winesburg section of the novel with the college president’s enraged lecture to the male students after a panty raid—sneering at them as a “ ‘mob of disobedient children’ ” (221) lacking “ ‘manly courage’ ” (219), and promising that “ ‘Human conduct can be regulated, and it will be regulated!’ ” (223, italics in original). Roth implies that the rigid rules of the patriarchal order—however they are meant to protect and preserve the

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generations—kill Marcus, not the bayonet that hacks up his intestines and, tellingly, his genitals. Roth’s references to the supreme patriarchal figure, the God whom Marcus, a vehement atheist, defies when he skips chapel, are sparse in Indignation, though they notably occupy Marcus’s internal tirade on the novel’s penultimate page, when he rages against “Our Folly, which art in Heaven!” (230). Roth devotes far more attention to the human son’s fraught and furious relationship to a godly Father in his final novel, Nemesis. If Marcus has an exaggerated superego, Bucky Cantor’s is off the charts. And if Marcus has too much father (or too many), Bucky Cantor has far too little or few. But Bucky suffers from an affliction surprisingly like Marcus’s in that his internalization of an unbending paternalistic code makes him into his own nemesis. Bucky, however, can only project culpability onto a father figure who is, in one extreme incarnation or another, like Garp’s in Irving’s novel, the product of his imagination. Bucky’s mother died at his birth, leaving the child to be raised by his grandparents, since his father was an irresponsible gambler and convicted thief who abandoned him. The narrator notes that “his biography had been determined by their absence” (Roth, Nemesis 26). Bucky seems to devote his life especially to compensating for his absent father. His grandfather, the surrogate paternal presence, instills in Bucky the Herman Roth code, with an emphasis on being physically fearless, a fighter, persevering. His focus on muscular strength and courage becomes the abiding fantasy of masculine identity ruling Bucky’s self-concept. His manly stoicism appears in his “cast-iron, wear-resistant, strikingly bold face,” although Roth at once hints that the image is deceptive, undercutting the stereotypically masculinized gendering of Bucky’s appearance by adding the details of Bucky’s weak vision and his “high-pitched” voice (12). Nevertheless, Roth’s final pages nostalgically promote the fantasy of heroic masculinity by describing Bucky in loving detail throwing a javelin before the polio epidemic that governs the narrative’s trajectory takes hold. Compared in his bodily perfection to Hercules, the “first javelin thrower” (276), Bucky appears to the local boys “invincible” (280), “a primordial man” linking them to their “ancient gender” (279), confirming his fitness to serve as the boys’ protector—in a surrogate paternal role echoing his grandfather’s position relative to him. Bucky takes this masculine prototype as “the essence of him” (278). Roth emphasizes the delusory image of the father fantasy, however, with the foil figure of Horace, the “neighborhood’s ‘moron’ ” (40), whose grotesque features and behavior provide a contrasting image of debased masculinity. Later, felled by polio and convinced without proof that he has unwittingly spread the virus among his young charges, Bucky abjects himself, shifting his self-concept to be more in line with the model performed by Horace. Withdrawing socially and redefining his identity as damaged and

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similarly grotesque, an authority figure earning no authority, Bucky becomes a “gender blank—as in a cartridge that is blank” (246), according to the narrator, Arnie Mesnikoff, formerly one of those adoring local boys, who summons the familiar America icon for phallic masculinity, a gun, in his deprecatory figure. Bucky’s Herculean family romance thus substitutes an originary myth of moral and physical perfection for his missing father. When to his mind he has failed in these terms to be a man, especially in the role of protecting the young, he carries a shame equivalent to that in whose terms he condemns his negligent father. Roth peppers the narrative with references to “manhood” or “manliness,” the very discourse of the novel seeming to entrap Bucky within a moribund code. Bucky’s binary thinking—Hercules vs. Horace— recognizes no space for manhood between the “natural, unadorned authority” (100) attributed to his girlfriend Marcia’s father, and the “sick fuck” and “evil genius” that is his conception of a God who could invent polio (265). He retains a sense of identity only by setting impossible standards for himself in the face of the polio virus’s randomness, making the fatal error of believing that renunciation of his desires and selfhood places him on the moral high ground of the father fantasy. For example, he confuses his paternalistic repudiation of Marcia for honor, arrogantly rationalizing that “ ‘I did it for her. I did what had to be done’ ” (255). When Bucky shows the adult Arnie a love letter he received from Marcia early in their relationship, covered only with repetitions of the two words “my man” (251), the ironic insistence on the concept he thinks he has failed is like a javelin he throws through his own heart. Bucky clings dumbly to his grandfather’s epigrammatic instruction, “ ‘when you have to pay the price, you pay it’ ” (25). The conception of duty as penance that he gleans from this expression of the father’s law guides both his guilty renunciations and his quarrel with God, leading the adult Arnie to judge that “there’s nobody less salvageable than a ruined good boy” (272). Thus, the Father who seems most to disappoint Bucky is God, whom he conceptualizes out of the “hubris of fantastical, childish religious interpretation” (265) as a “fiend” (264) who invents histories of suffering for humans—because Bucky cannot accept that suffering may be a matter of contingency. As Victoria Aarons points out, Bucky conceives of a fiendish God in order not to “cast himself into an arbitrary universe, to decry intentionality” (230). To construct a God the Father who is responsible for an evil order seems preferable to him to having no father at all and hence no order—no one to blame, no way to explain.19 Bucky’s is hardly a new accusation to level at God, but it takes on a specific resonance within a socio-historical context in which paternal authority is eroding—not least because fathers are powerless against the contingencies of economic change and disease. Roth exposes Bucky under the brutal light of a self-deluding false humility, forged out of the materials

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of an obsolescent fatherly ethos. As Aarons notes, in Roth’s world, where “there is no divine retribution, no theological or ontological or even teleological relation between sin and punishment [. . .] Bucky grants himself far too much importance, deluded by grandiose notions of agency and authority” (232). Yet Roth does not go so far as to condemn the patriarchal mode of reliability, fortitude, and self-discipline that these three novels uncover as inadequate to their protagonists’ needs. Quite to the contrary, in demonstrating the agonies that attend that very inadequacy, he seems almost to long for a lost world when values could be cast efficaciously into terse sentences. Everyman’s father, Mr. Messner, and Bucky’s grandfather are all good men, better, in some ways, if less complicated, than the sons or grandsons who chiefly occupy Roth’s imagination. It is difficult not to sense in Roth a deep, if, perhaps, reactionary nostalgia for a time when Herman Roth’s code sufficed, fathers ran the show, and all was right with the world.

Marilynne Robinson’s Earthly Fathers— Gilead, Home, Lila Roth’s setting for most of his writing, including Patrimony, Everyman, and Nemesis, is his home ground in urban New Jersey, where families labor in mom and pop stores or middling positions in corporate America; Indignation begins there, straying only as far west as northeastern Ohio. Marilynne Robinson draws our attention instead to the invented town of Gilead, Iowa, epitome of the rural, small-town Middle West—back to Smiley’s landscape of hard-working people hovering at the edge of the middle class. Both Roth and Robinson experiment with narrative form, within the confines of a commitment to social and psychological realism. Roth presents an anonymous protagonist in Everyman, a narration from beyond, or at least nearing, the grave in Indignation, and a surprise homodiegetic narrator appearing only late in Nemesis. Robinson’s canvas is even more condensed, as she revisits the same characters and stories from different psychological and temporal perspectives in what I shall call her Gilead trilogy. She deploys an epistolary form in Gilead, laconic passages of dialogue that yield only gradual insight into her characters’ consciousnesses in Home, and a concentrated free indirect style in Lila. The two writers’ prose styles, like their geography, also contrast sharply. Roth in his late phase prunes his prose dramatically from the bustle, boom, bluster, and long forms of his early novels. He compresses the late novels into dry, spare shapes, stripped of his early antic comedy, and composed in terse sentences in keeping with their sharp, unforgiving insights about disease, mortality, futility, betrayal, and indignation as the central human events, their quarrels with men and godlessness, their fundamentally bitter ironies. Robinson’s forms, however,

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for all the narrowness of the daily worlds that her characters inhabit, seem more expansive, wandering, open, nonlinear, and composed in at times heightened, meditative prose focused more on the fleeting quality of experience than on event. This effect is, I suggest, in keeping with her opposition to Roth’s square-jawed secularity, because she pursues the problem of how to represent the workings of grace in narrative form. Critics often examine Marilynne Robinson’s fiction through the lens of her avowed Christianity, supported by her explicit attention to matters of faith in both fiction and essays.20 Within such an approach, the final referent for the representation of a father figure appropriately and inevitably must be God the Father. One might argue, then, that Robinson returns the Lacanian view of the Father back to its original source—the Name-of-the-Father who is the law-giving Judaeo-Christian God, a transcendental signified flouting the Derridean erasure of God.21 I wish to complement such readings, however, by resituating an analysis of father figures from Robinson’s Gilead trilogy more materially, within the social, psychological, and affective contexts of earthly fathers living in the mid-twentieth-century United States. My intention is to read against the grain of Robinson’s own metaphysics, to recover how her fiction also provides a realism of place and time, of actors fully in the world even as they may seek, question, or resist the otherworldly. One might argue that her pursuit of the mysteries of grace as it works within the relationship between humans and the divine is, like Flannery O’Connor’s, the primary incentive for Robinson’s forms. Still, her specific choices of story and character are deeply embedded in the socioeconomic conditions that, during the Depression, undermined the previously uncontested authority of the patriarch. Such conditions are visible, for example, in Jack Boughton’s transience in all three novels of the trilogy; in the accompanying gradual shifts in the position of women, represented by Lila Ames’s history, unfolded in Lila; and in the historical situatedness of the world of the Middle West Robinson portrays in John Ames’s descent from two earlier generations of pastors, narrated in Gilead. Most immediately for my purposes, however, the trilogy elucidates psychosocial effects drawn directly from family relations. Robinson’s novels bear a unique relationship to the crisis and transition the ideological construction of fatherhood underwent in the middle of the twentieth century, especially insofar as the social narratives she writes create tension with the novels’ metaphysics. It is a tension Robinson might deny, because of her capaciously metaphysical take on “realism.” She has written many deeply meditative essays on human value, reverence, the things of the world and their inextricable relation to an immanent world, and how we think of these relations. In the essay “Humanism,” for example, she criticizes the “mystifications” created by neuroscience in opposing the physical to other dimensions of experience, when “scientists tak[e] as the whole of reality that part of it their methods can report.” Accordingly, she argues, “It is absurd

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for scientists who insist on the category ‘physical,’ and who argue that outside this category nothing exists, to dismiss the reality of the self on the grounds that its vulnerabilities can be said to place it solidly within this category” (Robinson, Givenness 6, 7, 8, italics in original). In “Experience,” whose title clearly alludes to Emerson, she writes that she is “often surprised by the literalism of rationalist and even scientific belief in the physical as a unique category, and as one whose norms and predictabilities, however localized, have an authority out of all proportion to their place even in the cosmos we know” (Givenness 228). And in “Realism,” she notes that “I am impatient with the artificial limits we put on our sense of things—in the name of reason, I suppose, or in any case in deference to what consensus will support as reasonable” (Givenness 275). In seeming contradiction to these arguments against the post-Enlightenment mode of reasoning, however, Robinson’s narrative realities, like those of Roth, Smiley, and Tyler, are always pointing to the physical and social world and the ways in which we aspire to make rational sense of them. Yet as for Emerson, the envelope of the nonrationalist cosmos is always an inferential reality in Robinson’s writing.22 To balance these competing metaphysics, the sensual world of relations is very much under her microscope. Robinson provides a kind of laboratory for detailed scrutiny of familial relationships, including the erosion of the patriarch’s authority. All three novels of the trilogy focus on the same two families in the small town of Gilead, both headed by aging ministers, but narrated from a variety of perspectives. The premise of Gilead, for example, is that the elderly, ailing Congregationalist minister, John Ames, who narrates the novel, composes a letter to his young son motivated by anticipation of his own impending absence, when he will no longer be able to instruct or protect his son. Home presents another infirm paterfamilias, Robert Boughton, a Presbyterian minister, whose son, Jack, burdened by the expectations he has internalized from their patriarchal religious tradition, reproduces his father’s symbolic absence into the next generation. In Home, largely focalized within the awareness of Boughton’s daughter Glory, Robinson demonstrates how paternal failures to recognize or protect offspring, especially when representing the immitigable law to their sons, turn “home” into a signifier marked only by exile and grief. Finally, Robinson shifts ground in Lila. Posing subplots about paternal absence and patricide against a narrative of provisional matrilineage, Robinson recuperates the construction of family within the focalizing consciousness of Lila Ames, the Reverend’s young wife. Robinson begins the first novel of the trilogy, Gilead, set in the mid1950s, with an overt reference to patrilineage. According to the narrative premise, the Reverend John Ames, at the age of seventy-seven, whose “heart is failing” (Robinson, Gilead 4), is writing a “letter” (3) that is a sort of autobiography or apologia pro vita sua to his young son. The anticipation

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of a father’s absence is thus the motive for narrative. Robinson establishes the narration as a distinctly dialogical situation, with a first-person narrator and a homodiegetic narratee who is, yet, absent from the position of address. Our awareness of an addressee who will not read Ames’s account for some time, until he has grown and his father is gone, casts a bittersweet sense of delayed communication and anticipatory loss over the narrative details. Ames invokes a future grief when he writes, “While you read this, I am imperishable, somehow more alive than I have ever been” (53). Of course, he would be neither imperishable nor alive in the moment to which the deictics of “While you read this” refer. The story must therefore hover in a kind of static temporality among the events that happen, their telling in the “present” of the narrative, and the moment of their reaching their intended reader. The narrative situation thus puts into relief the temporal dimension of patrilineage as well as its furnishings. Since, as Ames notes ruefully, he is leaving little in the way of a material legacy to his wife and child, his story is, as in Roth’s memoir, his son’s patrimony. And that is largely the story of a line of fathers. In the discourse of his ministry, Ames notes that “Your mother told you I’m writing your begats” (9), and he launches almost immediately into a detailed account of his father and grandfather, also preachers, and his relationships to them. First, however, he frames his narration with reference to how fathers and sons may suffer from mutual disappointment and misunderstanding: “A man can know his father, or his son, and there might still be nothing between them but loyalty and love and mutual incomprehension” (7). Robinson here outlines the signature paternal/ filial gap that will serve as a central motif of Gilead as well as its successor, Home. The notion of a gap of incomprehension appears first in the relationship between John Ames’s grandfather and father, both also named John Ames. It is as if Robinson wishes to ensure that we do not overlook the ironies of the direct paternal line sealed by the continuity of the Name-of-the-Father. Ames’s grandfather, an itinerant preacher from New England, preached at the time of the Civil War a muscular Christianity, “afire with old certainties” (32), mingling his abolitionist politics with his preaching. He puts his body, as it were, where his mouth is, losing an eye at the battle of Wilson’s Creek (31). But that missing eye seems, to his family, to give him spiritual “visions” (97), as though he has been consecrated in the fire of the war’s masculinist violence. His son, Ames’s father, is a pacifist who disagrees vehemently with his father despite honoring him: “It grieved my father bitterly,” Ames writes to his child, “that the last words he said to his father were very angry words and there could never be any reconciliation between them in this life” (10). When Ames describes his grandfather “standing in the pulpit, with his eyes red and his face pale and dust in his beard, all ready to preach on judgment and grace” (110), one can almost hear the hoofbeats of Reverend Gail Hightower’s Civil War grandfather, from Faulkner’s Light in August (1932),

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drumming out the distance between the mythic patriarchs of the midnineteenth century and their milder, weaker offspring.23 Ames begins his tale of his forefathers by recounting the quest his father undertook with him, when he was a child, to find his own father’s grave after the first John Ames had disappeared, inscribing a paradigmatic paternal absence. Robinson thus reminds the reader that her narrative is about historicity, which in the novel’s terms, like those of many others before it, is equivalent to recovering the father and the father’s story. Indeed, much of Western narrative, insofar as its continuity, like that of history, is linear, may be seen to partake of a temporality that begins with the authority of a patriarchal figure, according to what Patricia Tobin called the “genealogical imperative” (11). In analyzing how time functions in narrative, Tobin traces how the “genealogical imperative [. . .] binds the children in obedience to the father not simply because they were created by his volition, but more significantly because they came after him in time. Temporal anteriority thus acquires a metaphysical priority, prestige is affixed to the point of origin” (11, italics in original). But she also argues that narrative structures in twentieth-century fiction are informed by the “double movement of desire and repulsion for the world of the fathers” (12). This double movement underlies the “Western nostalgia” reposing in the family for the lost “pastoral origins of communality that might be reduplicated in the domesticity of the hearth” (11–12), as well, one might argue, as sponsoring oedipal resistance to and flight from the father’s order. The former impulse leads to the feeling of loss—when Ames’s grandfather leaves the family, he remarks, “we all felt his absence bitterly” (Gilead 31). But it is the latter, the resistance to the father, that makes a story to tell—that shapes the acts of both moving away from the father’s hold on the genealogical imperative and moving back, into narrative time. Ames was himself “the good son, [. . .] the one who never left his father’s house” (238); in his generation, the resistant son was his brother, Edward, who rejected their father’s faith. More than just a passive observer-narrator, Ames is placed actively within the familial and narrative dynamics of patrilineage, visible within his actions toward the next generation. Ames’s project in writing the temporally wandering, nonlinear—“aimless,” if you will—letter to his son is motivated by profound love and by his efforts to “be wise, the way a father should be, the way an old pastor certainly should be” (56). Robinson’s juxtaposition of clauses acknowledges the metaphoric link in the patriarchal Christian system between the pastor as a “father” to his “flock” and biological fathers. Yet for all Ames’s active uncertainty, Robinson does not truly test his fatherhood in relation to his son, except by the inevitability of his mortality. Instead, Robinson allows Ames’s faltering function as a father to appear in his relationship to his surrogate son. Jack Boughton, named after Ames, is the son of his best friend, the Presbyterian minister Robert Boughton. Robinson interweaves a thick texture of father-

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son relations here, in that Boughton gives the gift of his own son to his friend Ames because Ames appears for many years fated to live a childless life.24 It is as if the lack Boughton perceives in Ames is exactly his falling short of the position of patriarch whose name will continue unto the next generation. Jack becomes Ames’s godson, with all the reverberations that term entails in Robinson’s universe. For a godson stands in relation to the godfather as the human to a heavenly father (or the congregant to the pastor), dependent on a figure of authority to exercise a bond that is voluntary and not biological or demonstrably familial. Robinson then tips the scale in various ways, by making Jack overtly into a kind of Prodigal Son—an allusion repeated explicitly and central to the novel’s meanings. The parable appeals to Robinson because it is about unearned forgiveness and thereby suggests how grace works. Ames summarizes one of his sermons from 1947, on the subject of forgiveness: “it makes the point that, in Scripture, the one sufficient reason for the forgiveness of debt is simply the existence of debt,” followed by a comparison “to divine grace, and to the Prodigal Son and his restoration to his place in his father’s house, though he neither asks to be restored as son nor even repents of the grief he has caused his father.” Ames concludes that “to be forgiven is only half the gift. The other half is that we also can forgive, restore, and liberate” (161, italics in original). Although the parable relies on the conventional hermeneutics of religious allegory, such that the earthly father is an analogue to the heavenly Father, Ames’s last allusion to a kind of humanism is a significant move. Robinson here recalls the father’s responsibility within a material world to move beyond the hurt or grief of social relations in order to welcome even an apparently unrepentant son back into the family. This is the test Robinson poses in both Gilead and Home. The fathers fail the test miserably. Neither Robert Boughton nor Ames fulfills the role of fatherly forgiveness in relation to Jack Boughton, but Robinson reserves most of the story of Robert’s failure for the narrative of Home. In Gilead, Ames’s ailment is diagnosed as angina pectoris, but in a metaphorical sense, it is not coincidentally a disease of the heart—that is, a metaphysical diagnosis of some defect of love or compassion.25 Jack transgresses in ways hard to forgive, chiefly as a wild young man, stealing a car, joyriding, swiping liquor—and impregnating a young girl, leaving her, and then leaving their child, however unwittingly, to die in poverty and privation—and finally disappearing from Gilead and his family for some twenty years. His errant behavior epitomizes the son’s rejection of the patriarchal order, represented in his Presbyterian father, who loves him, but who foremost exacts the rule of law that Jack wishes to upset and escape. As if expressing Robert’s hidden sentiment, Ames reflects, “I don’t forgive him. I wouldn’t know where to begin” (164). His acknowledgment is borne out in his behavior to Jack, who has, since childhood, made his surrogacy plain, calling Ames “Papa”—a salutation that Ames seems able to take only as ironic, as if to excuse himself

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his cruel rejection of Jack: “I have never felt he was fond of me” (91). Indeed, Robinson uncovers Ames as a prospective unreliable narrator in relation to Jack. Jack is, as it were, a narrative secret; he is mysterious and unreadable to Ames, whose first response to him is therefore suspicion, despite his recognition that Jack is troubled and lonely. Ames can see Jack only through the mirror of his own preoccupations: Jack, he judges, “squander[ed] his fatherhood” (164) as opposed to Ames, whose first family died of illness, displaying his impotence to protect them; and he envies Jack’s relative youth and vigor as he laments his own physical decline, the source of all his storytelling. Jack returns to Gilead protecting secrets—an African American wife and child, and the burden of pain from being barred from her, on account of his prior trespasses, by her upright family, headed by yet another patriarchal preacher. Rather than empathize with Jack, however, Ames suspects his every motive—in his anguished questions about the doctrine of predestination; in his ease in talking with Ames’s wife, Lila, because, as we learn fully only in Lila, they have shared similar experiences in the lower depths of the American class system;26 and in his efforts to find a way into Ames’s good “graces,” if you will, by being attentive to Ames’s son and attending his church. Jack seems most of all, like Tyler’s Cody, to desire the sort of recognition that a father might bestow upon his son—a recognition of their filial relation, of their common humanity and lineage. It is the recognition that gives the child an identity.27 Learning that Ames’s father preached in Ames’s own church, Jack tells him with some longing, “ ‘It’s an enviable thing, to be able to receive your identity from your father’ ” (168). Yet Ames rewards Jack’s attentions with jealousy, feeling displaced from fatherly play with his young son, and, he fears, in the affections of his wife, who is Jack’s age-mate, decades younger than Ames is. Ames’s suspicion, then, smacks of a kind of faithlessness, if one presses the Christian allegory; but even without that dimension of meaning, Robinson exposes Ames as betraying his duty toward openness and forgiveness. His ailing heart is closed. Only after Jack seems to have lost hope in Ames does the Reverend reverse himself, but his manner of doing so retains the ambivalence he has registered throughout. “I do feel a burden of guilt toward that child, that man, my namesake,” he writes, but immediately juxtaposes to his confession, “I have never been able to warm to him, never” (188). When he offers his full recognition—“John Ames Boughton is my son”— though only in the privacy of his address to his son, not to Jack, he further undermines the gesture: “By ‘my son’ I mean another self, a more cherished self. That language isn’t sufficient, but for the moment it is the best I can do” (189). The man who is in a sense nothing but words—the inscription of a self and a history, aspirations and regrets, that composes the confessional letter that is the narrative—this man evades his symbolic fatherhood to Jack. Indeed,

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he erases Jack as a subject by conflating Jack with his own selfhood, hiding behind the excuse that he does not possess the language to speak their relations more precisely. One might, within the framework of Robinson’s Christian metaphysics, see Ames’s recognition as an act of humility and searching, a signifier of grace working through Ames if mysterious even to him. Yet the act—or, really, the lack of an act—has consequences in this world. Jack has not been addressed to give him the recognition he so desperately seeks, and in fact Ames returns to his suspicions, “the central question. That is: How should I deal with these fears I have, that Jack Boughton will do you and your mother harm, just because he can, just for the sly, unanswerable meanness of it?” (190). Ames lies willfully far from understanding Jack’s heart, or giving comfort to him, whose secrets about his wife, Della, and their son, are at last revealed to him. As father-surrogate, Ames in his final chapter again fails to meet Jack’s appeals: “Here I was supposed to be a second father to him. I wanted to say something to him to that effect, but it seemed complicated, and I was too tired to think through its possible implications” (231). Only when Jack prepares to leave Gilead as an Adamic exile, to wander without a home in existential discouragement, does Ames take a moment to bless him as a “beloved son and brother and husband and father”—but even that gesture of blessing, an attempt at a meaningful speech act within Ames’s exalted discourse, fails to connect or succor, falling instead into the gap of incomprehension. In the tone of Jack’s reply to the blessing, Ames hears that “to him it might have seemed I had named everything I thought he no longer was, when that was [. . .] the exact opposite of my meaning” (241–42). The blessing, however miscommunicated, that Ames performs serves as a climax in Robinson’s narrative. Ames takes comfort that he has performed a benediction in the place of his dying friend, Robert, too ill to perform the gesture of forgiveness to his own son—who, in fact, we learn, has fulfilled his duty to patrilineage by naming his son after his father, as “ ‘Robert Boughton Miles’ ” (228). Robinson explained to an interviewer her conception of the blessing, that “all blessing is mutual,” such that “the blessing Ames gives Jack is an act of recognition that blesses Ames, too. He is profoundly moved that he has had the occasion to do it, that Jack accepted it, wanted it” (Painter 490). Robinson’s answer to the problem Jack poses thus lies in the mystery Ames utters on the final pages regarding “a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it” (Gilead 246)—a grace, that is, that moves us through our resistance, despite ourselves. But for all the beauty of heart Robinson bestows on Ames in his observations of the sensuous world—of his child, or Lila, or natural phenomena—Jack’s inevitable exile from family, place, and comfort bespeaks some profound lack within his otherwise diseased heart.28 The lack Ames typifies is perhaps forecast in the narrative form Robinson has chosen. Because Ames is the speaker, the narrative events are mediated

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through his understandings, which are steadfastly Christian. For him, hard as the work may be, grace is a reality. But because Jack cannot commit himself to faith, he effectively becomes little more than an object for Ames’s restoration, concluded within the arc of the storytelling that chooses to reserve this episode of blessing almost for the last. In the terms of the novel Jack is, then, perhaps not fully a subject in himself. Jack remains as elusive to the reader as to Ames, a signifier, seen from the outside, of the occasion for the workings of grace. Because Ames narrates, Robinson does not get inside Jack’s head or heart, except by inference from his speech or acts. Furthermore, just as Ames cannot truly protect and teach his son by means of his letter, except at a time when his son, reading it, may be well past the urgency of protection and instruction, so can Jack’s consolation only be projected into a future beyond the written moment—or, within the construction of Robinson’s faith, into a future beyond his life on earth. If this is grace, it is a hard lesson from the earthly fathers to their sons, mired in their own earthly histories. If one reads against the grain of Robinson’s Christian narrative, there is finally no balm in Gilead. Much of Jack’s story remains untold in Gilead, especially the specific nature of his relationship with his biological father, and this is what Robinson returns to in Home, whose title alludes, though perhaps with insufficient irony, to a potential remedy for the exile Jack suffers in the first novel of the trilogy.29 The novels are closely allied, as if one reveals what is happening backstage while the other takes center stage; as Aaron Mauro suggests, “The relationship between these novels represents a formal break with the limits of the book as a closed performance” (157). The continuity between the novels extends to the way in which Jack remains a somewhat absent center in Home, not fully an agent, despite the fact that he stakes out a presence— really, the central concern—in the Boughton household and in the novel as a whole. Many more details of his life story come to the surface, about his African American wife and child, for example, and about his alcoholism and time in prison, but again Robinson chooses to center the narrative in a consciousness separate from and in many ways alien to Jack’s. Unlike Gilead, Home does not have a homodiegetic narrator as such, but it does prominently offer Jack’s sister Glory as the focalized narrative consciousness, and the novel is largely composed in free indirect discourse from Glory’s point of view.30 Jack remains an obscure object of contemplation for the rest of the characters, as for the reader. He motivates others, chiefly his sister and father, but his life-narrative seems curiously to lie beyond the boundaries of Robinson’s full narrative. Jeffrey Gonzalez notes about both Gilead and Home that “the plot of each book is not so much about forgiving Jack, [. . .] nor is either about his redemption; instead, their focus is on how to encounter him ethically” (382). However much the novels demonstrate others encountering Jack ethically, they do not give broad access or insight into his consciousness or conscience—a personal point of view, so to speak.

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Home’s focus seems as well to be on how to encounter Jack epistemologically, like a book to read or problem to solve. The narrator remarks, for example, from Glory’s typical viewpoint, “Poor Jack. People watched him, and he knew it. It was partly distrust. But more than that, the man was at once indecipherable and transparent. Of course they watched him” (Robinson, Home 181).31 As the object of such a piercing communal gaze, it may be no surprise that Jack turns to drink as an adult. The gaze that first, and always, lands on Jack is his father’s, and he seems to have been especially sensitive to Robert’s judgment when it showed itself: “When they were children their father had always avoided fault-finding, at least in the actual words he spoke to them. But there was from time to time a tone of rebuke in his voice that overrode the mildness of his intentions” (84). Glory’s qualification—“at least in the actual words he spoke to them”—suggests that Robert may in unspoken ways have conveyed his disapproval or disappointment. Glory, however, is at pains to convey Robert’s love for Jack, her sense that their father views her brother as a special case—an impression that may nevertheless be mixed with a degree of sibling envy: “If he was disappointed [in Jack . . .] he could tell himself that the fault was his own, taking the bitterness of it all on himself and sparing his miscreant son. [. . .] it was for Jack he had always devised and deployed his greatest strategies of—what to call it—rescue” (27).32 Even the notion that Jack might require “rescue” implies that he, and the desires upon which he acts, are unacceptable to his father; indeed, their mother remarks to Glory that “ ‘I believe that boy was born to break his father’s heart’ ” (56). For all Robert’s care, however, his participation in a patriarchal, rigorously Presbyterian sense of lineage and righteousness determines his manner of being a father. The narrator conveys Glory’s perception that “Her father taught his children, never doubting, that there was a single path from antiquity to eternity. Learn the psalms and ponder the ways of the early church. Know what must be known. Ancient fathers taught their ancient children, who taught their ancient children, these very things” (21). The genealogical imperative is spoken in the imperative mood. Jack’s response to the burden of his father’s genealogical authority, to his own resistance to the father’s law, and to his feeling of unworthiness is psychologically layered so as to reduce conflict but also to retain a nub of integrity and selfhood. If he offends, he approaches his father armored with the defense of distance, starting with the fact that while “the girls always said Papa,” “[t]he boys called their father sir” (64); as I note earlier, Jack curiously reserves the familiar term of address for Ames. In keeping with Jack’s stiltedly formal relation to Robert, the narrator reports a kind of generic father/son exchange: “Jack, can you tell me why you have done whatever you did [. . .] No, sir. You can’t explain it, Jack? No sir. [. . .] You do understand that what you did was wrong. Yes, sir, I understand that. Will you pray for a better conscience, better judgment, Jack? No, sir, I doubt that

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I will. Well, I’ll pray for you then. Thank you, sir” (64, italics in original). Jack’s detachment is masked in politeness that nevertheless will not give ground. Most crucially, he will not attest to religious faith either to his father or to his father’s doubles, Ames and the preacher father of the woman Jack wishes to marry, even though it costs him his dearest desires. About failing his test with Della’s father, he tells Glory, “ ‘I wished very much at the time that I could have been, you know, a hypocrite. But I just didn’t have it in me. My one scruple’ ” (144). Jack’s sincerity and unwillingness to accept cant motivate the crucial conversation he has with Ames and Robert—who, Glory notes, have never agreed on the matter (221)—about the doctrine of predestination, a subject matter and conversation so important to Robinson that she repeats it from Gilead to Home, where she develops it in far more detail. Jack asks whether “ ‘some people are intentionally and irretrievably consigned to perdition’ ” (219) as an entry point into inquiring if he might exemplify “ ‘people who are simply born evil, live evil lives, and then go to hell’ ” (225). In the course of the conversation he also raises the question of whether fathers’ sins are visited upon their sons and, perhaps, the reverse—implicitly indicting himself both as a father, having abandoned the dead little girl born out of wedlock, and a son, having abandoned his father. Although Robinson uses the discussion to reinforce the novel’s exploration of grace, my point is that Jack’s pressing of the question seems his most overt act of seeking consolation from his assembled father figures. His fathers offer none. Ames, as we see first in Gilead, becomes irritated, interpreting Jack’s questions as hostile to him rather than expressing Jack’s earnest anxieties. Instead of detecting the profound need beneath Jack’s calm manner, he suspects that Jack may be a “smart aleck [who] starts in on theological questions [when] he’s only trying to put me in a false position” (Gilead 152). Robert’s responses are likewise self-centered. He reacts with passivity and narcissistic despondency to Jack’s confession of sinfulness, without offering solace or redress, simply “cover[ing] his face with his hands” (Home 225). He also grows defensive, pointing out, when Jack asserts that he does not feel membership in the church, that he was, after all, “ ‘baptized and confirmed just like anybody else’ ” (225). Both father figures respond out of their subjective feelings and not empathetically toward the son in need. It takes Lila, answering simply that “ ‘A person can change. Everything can change’ ” (227), to tell Jack “ ‘all [he] wanted to know’ ” (228). In her empathy, she counters Robert’s final evasion, when he confesses his perplexity at the paradox that “ ‘the mystery of predestination could be reconciled with the mystery of salvation’ ” (227). Robert’s answer, to Jack, anyway, presents no more than a theological shrug. Jack’s return to Gilead after his absence of twenty years to attend to his dying father demonstrates the unchanging dynamics of their interactions, except that Robert’s physical enfeeblement now externalizes the ethical and

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psychological weaknesses of his prior performance of fatherhood with Jack. Indeed, the acts of love are all on Jack’s part, not Robert’s; as Robinson told an interviewer, “the most devoted father is finally powerless to protect his children, to soothe and reassure them [. . . Jack] finds himself continually having to forgive his father and to love him graciously, that is, despite all” (Painter 486, 488, italics in original). Jack approaches his sick father with an unwonted physical tenderness that both surprises and shames Glory, and yet Robert responds in such a way that Jack “realized he did not please his father, did not know how to please his father [. . .] that he had done nothing to offend, that his father had found fault with him anyway” (76). Robert’s blind and exacting faith in the father’s law becomes, like Ames’s weak heart, the mark of a sickness beyond the body. Even when, his father close to death, Jack offers the supreme gesture of a lie in order to ease his father’s grief, Robert betrays him. Jack tells him that “ ‘after careful thought, I had become persuaded of the truth of Scripture. [. . .] I wanted you to stop worrying about me. [. . .] I’ve tried to understand. And I did try to live a better life’ ” (293–94). But his father addresses him as a stranger, granting him no recognition, taking cover in his physical enfeeblement. To Glory, he grieves Jack as if he’s not present, suggesting that his view of Jack is “ ‘like watching a child die in your arms’ ” (295). Then he compounds the punishment, showing that he has in fact heard and understood everything around him, his obliviousness a cruel pretense, and has listened only with skepticism to Jack’s protestations, seeing through the superficial lie: “ ‘He’s going to toss the old gent an assurance or two, and then he’s out the door’ ” (296). Jack offers no resistance to Robert’s repudiation of him, because he has no faith in himself and appreciates the truth above all—he is, after all, and with supreme irony, his father’s son. Robert’s choice to give priority to the fate of Jack’s soul, to the Truth as he imagines it, rather than to the compassion his son has extended to him, leaves Jack a permanent exile. The father has failed to extend forgiveness to the Prodigal Son, to imitate the divine model he delineated in a prayer on Jack’s return to Gilead: “ ‘it’s a good thing [in times of trouble] to know we have a Father, whose joy it is to welcome us home’ ” (41). Instead, he seems to see Jack only as the sum of his errors. The paternal relationship represented by the Boughton father and son constitutes a profound failure to communicate across the generations. Within the system the Boughtons subscribe to, the patriarchal word is required to knit a family together, and at one point Glory (here, aptly named) celebrates her father’s “rapt delight” in the “goodness of God”: “Her father never let a day pass without reminding them that all goodness came from the Lord, all love, all beauty. And failure and fault instructed us in the will of God in the very fact of departing from it. Then there were grace and forgiveness to compensate” (110). Glory succinctly summarizes a credo from which Robert falls short with Jack—he finally focuses on the failure

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and fault, not the goodness, grace, and forgiveness. Robinson captures this dissonance in her thematizing of the matter of language itself—in Jack’s inability to name his father as father, for example, because Jack feels that he “ ‘didn’t deserve to speak to [him] the way the others did,’ ” which was all that Robert “ ‘waited for’ ” (311) but did not enable because he made Jack feel unworthy. Robinson demonstrates Jack’s longing for the patrimony he feels expelled from in relation to names, the testament to patrilineage. Jack recognizes that Ames has named his young son after Robert and avers it “ ‘the best name in the world’ ” (185), an act parallel to Jack’s naming of his own son after his father. But because Jack lacks faith, he cannot speak the word of the patriarch; as Rowan Williams argues, he is thus an “ironist” (7) unable to speak the discourse of his two father figures: “Jack cannot use the ‘script’ of unselfconscious family intimacy [. . .] The language of ‘natural’ family relationship [. . .] is a text that cannot accommodate Jack’s selfawareness, his consciousness of himself as predestined to be a stranger, morally, culturally, religiously” (10).33 Jack’s expulsion, as it were, from the familial discourse, as from the Eden of home, is consonant with his indecipherability to the members of the Gilead community, especially his family—and with his vulnerability, thereby, to become an object to them. Indeed, Jack’s existence outside this discourse demonstrates why he is never truly at “home.” Unlike the Prodigal Son, he has never been unreservedly forgiven or welcomed. The detachment Jack affects to salve and obscure his vulnerability is both cause and effect of his exile. Robinson, by keeping Jack at arm’s length, mediated through Glory’s perceptions and then, at further remove, through a narrator who is not even fully Glory, reinforces his distance as object from the field of understanding—both the family’s and the reader’s. He does not have a textual voice, except as relayed in dialogue.34 It is no surprise that he must leave Gilead to wander homelessly at the novel’s end, with all the Biblical echoes that act evokes, only just missing Della’s appearance in Gilead—also her first appearance within the novel’s pages— with their son, in search of him, according to the rather heavy-handed irony with which Robinson chooses to close the novel. This redemptive finish, with its whiff of a deus ex machina, seems Robinson’s move to offer a long view on the Boughtons’ patrilineage. On the final pages Glory fantasizes that Jack’s son returns to Gilead as an adult, to think “This was my father’s house,” an act that she imagines “has answered his father’s prayers” (325). Yet Jack never seems to feel it is his house, and his relationship to prayer is consistently fraught; from Jack’s point of view, the novel’s title must be ironic if applied to his life. To whatever degree this final narrative gesture is meant as an index to heavenly grace, it also seems an erasure of much that has gone before, especially Jack’s permanent alienation. Even more, in Glory’s concluding fantasy of a familial closure blessed by grace, Robinson erases the critique of the very system of patriarchal continuance into which Glory imaginatively sweeps the youngest Robert Boughton.

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Granted that Robinson may not choose that system as her explicit target, to the degree that the novel represents a psychosocial condition—real people, struggling in the temporal world—the ending does seem to trouble her metaphysics, however unwittingly. At the least, it may suggest that the patrilineal values embedded in the Ames and Boughton perspectives on ethics may be, perhaps even justly, in decline. Robinson might reject this reading, but the shift that appears in the final novel of the trilogy offers further evidence of the faultlines in the system. Lila hints at the potential for a matrilineal model, at least to run parallel to if not to replace patrilineage. In a sense, Lila returns Robinson to the resonances of her first novel, Housekeeping (1980), which was invested wholly in an enclave of females. In Lila, Robinson introduces the possibility of matrilineage through Lila’s relationship with Doll, the woman who, depending on one’s point of view, is either a criminal, stealing a small child from her family, or a saint, saving her from killing neglect—and who provides Lila with the most consistent gestures of love, nourishment, teaching, and fierce protection she receives until she at last wanders into Gilead, to take up with the Reverend John Ames. Doll may be only a surrogate mother, but within the economy of the novel’s meanings, she offers a singular image of devoted maternity to fill the lack of a caring biological mother, whom the child has never experienced. In fact, Lila is much more concerned with a mother’s absence than with that of the father, signaling a shift away from the system that dominates the familial relations of the first two novels. With the exception of Ames’s obvious love for his young son in Gilead, Lila’s connection to Doll is the only parent/child relationship in the trilogy that appears unmixed. It is also the only relationship in which Robinson offers clear evidence that the child consistently treasures—and, during the narrated span of her life, is improved by—the parent’s values and ministrations. Within the trilogy’s chronology, Lila recounts the first story in the Gilead storyworld, except insofar as Gilead and Home, like Lila, include numerous analeptic sequences. All three narratives roam freely back and forth in time, in keeping with the workings of memory within the meditative consciousnesses of the narrators. In this way, Lila discloses secrets, especially those held close in Gilead, about the backstory of Ames’s mysterious second wife, which shows her as a figure somewhat parallel to Jack Boughton. Although the causes are very different, Lila, like Jack, is dispossessed: “[s]he had never been at home in all the years of her life. She wouldn’t know how to begin” (Robinson, Lila 107). And, like him, she is isolated: “she kept to herself as much as she could. [. . .] There was a time when I just quit talking [. . .] I’d go a day, a week, and never say a word, except to myself” (207–8). We learn in Home that Jack has knocked about in poverty, drink, and lawlessness, but his homelessness seems to be willed by his hopeless conviction that his duty is to signify his spiritual poverty by choosing abject social conditions, as he

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has understood his metaphysical condition from his family. Lila, to the contrary, is deeply rooted in the corporeal world; her homelessness is caused by privation and the negligence of a poverty-stricken, brutal family. This last novel is thus the one that Robinson fixes most clearly within a material and social history—of the destitution of the Depression years in America, of migrant farm workers increasingly pinched and desolate, of a world in which the innocent young Lila finds herself working to support herself in a house of prostitution. The trajectory of Lila the novel is exactly the trajectory of Lila the character: toward a stable home, which she takes up with the aging Ames, and toward acceptance of her rightful place in that home, sealed by opening herself at last to her husband and emblematized by her bearing a son for him—toward, that is, an iconographic, salvific image of home-asachieved. As in both Gilead and Home, the point of view Robinson chooses for Lila is highly significant. Like Home, Lila is dominated by narrative focalization on a woman’s perceptions, in this case Lila herself, presented in a free indirect discourse that is sensitive to the locutions of an uneducated woman in mid-century mid-America. The key difference is that Lila, who, like Jack in Home, is the central figure of the novel, has a voice and, effectively, tells her own story. She is the subject of the narrative of Lila rather than, as in Home with respect to Jack, its object. As in Home, too, Robinson explores the position of the central estranged character by way of his or her special relationship to the discourses of the father. Lila expresses her subjectivity in part in her pursuit of the discourses from which she has felt excluded—she seeks the language she has never been taught and the knowledge contained in the words. “Everything has a name,” she considers. “Everybody else knows the name and they think you’re stupid if you don’t know it” (209). Lila’s relationship to the discourse is inflected by both her gender and her class position, however. She remembers a battered shawl Doll had given her, which Doane, the itinerant farm laborer she and Doll traveled with, once burned in the fire. That shawl is Doll’s way of conveying her otherwise unspoken love for Lila—the material gift is the mother’s offering, her voiceless voice. “There wasn’t much that felt worse than losing that shawl,” Lila thinks to herself, because she intuits that it signifies the comfort and protections of kinship; juxtaposed to the memory, she recalls a line from a psalm, unattributed in the text: “There is no speech nor language; their voice is not heard” (134, italics in original). Lila, whose consciousness is by necessity influenced by material conditions, connects the loss of a material object with lost meaning, signified by the voicelessness of the disenfranchised. But the language that allows her to make this connection is the language of the patriarchs—in this case, of the psalmist. Intentionally or not, Robinson creates an ideological tension. The discourse the fatherless Lila tries to insert herself within is the discourse of the fathers, the Logos that names the world

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and carries through into the post-Enlightenment practical system of values— bearing on reason, economics, class—that has made her voiceless. This is the discourse she encounters with Ames, as when she ponders the allusions in his preaching to the “ ‘mystery of existence’ ”; she wonders, “Could she have these thoughts if she had never learned the word? [. . .] She wished she’d known about it sooner, or at least known there was a name for it. She used to be afraid she was the only one in the world who couldn’t make sense of things” (178–79). To speak, to bring into knowledge, is to frame her experience in language—but in a language that is not hers and that, in naming her, circumscribes her subjectivity. Lila’s ambivalent exclusion from the discourse she eventually adopts—an exclusion that seems in part a willful resistance, like Jack’s—is evident in her relationship to naming. She clearly grasps the power of names in the patrilineal system. She knows Doll only by that name, and she knows no last name for herself, either—the name that would link her to a line of fathers. When she enters the “house in St. Louis” (182)—a bordello—the madam renames her, clarifying her position in that location as an object. Lila offers “Doll” as her name, an alias—as a kind of matronymic, if you will—but the woman dismisses it and casually gives her another: “ ‘Rose’ll do. Ruby’ ” (183). A flower or a jewel—a pretty thing for men’s consumption. But in a sly inversion of the patriarchal naming of women, throughout the novel the narrator refers to Ames from Lila’s perspective only as “the old man” or “the Reverend.” Lila seems, that is, to regard him, as a woman might conventionally be regarded, in terms of his social position or his body, and not according to the intimacy and intersubjectivity their marriage might imply. She does so even as she also celebrates the relationship she names, repeatedly thinking of Ames as “a beautiful old man” and, always the materialist attuned to the sensuous world, noting that “it pleased her more than almost anything that she knew the feel of [his] coat, the weight of it” (253). Ultimately, though, faced by her own son, she cannot evade the power of patrilineage to bestow a social identity. Still discomfited in Gilead and contemplating escape with her son, she tells him, “ ‘I’ll tell you the name of the place, though. People should know that much about themselves anyway. The name of your father’ ” (221). As in Gilead and Home, then, recognition of the other within a genealogical system is a central feature of the order of the father. But in the final novel of the trilogy, Robinson puts a spin on the act of recognition, suggesting again that the novel contests that order and the law it represents, both figuratively and, in this instance, literally. Doll is taken to jail, accused of knifing to death a man whom Lila has reason to believe is her father, come to claim her, though for reasons of proprietorship, not affection. When the sheriff asks Lila if Doll is her mother, she answers truthfully, denying what is, in literal terms, a falsehood; Doll is, however, gratified by the disavowal and reinforces it by refusing to acknowledge Lila during her

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repeated visits: “all [Doll] said to her was ‘I don’t know you’ ” (137). Doll’s disavowal inverts Ames’s failure to offer full recognition to Jack. Doll’s gesture is her supreme act of maternal protection, enabling Lila to remain unidentified and thus safe from her brutish family members, but with the result that Doll cannot receive Lila’s full succor without risk of being discovered. Lila’s recognition of this gesture, in turn, is marked by her repeated memory of the words of disavowal in the narrative (e.g., 138, 181). In this instance, the act of recognition central to maintaining social identity within the father’s order is turned on its head, to redemptive effect, repudiating the patriarchal law itself. Doll’s crime is one of two acts of symbolic patricide that Robinson includes in the novel, both of which imply a critique of the father’s order that might open space for an alternative model. The simpler of the two occurs when Lila encounters a young man, a fearful drifter, in the shack she first occupies on the outskirts of Gilead. He confesses to her his fear that he has killed his father during a fight when his father was drunk and violent, but he fled without knowing if he had accomplished the act.35 His guilt, together with his fear, causes him to consider returning to his home to confess his crime; he seeks punishment: “ ‘I’m kind of hoping they hang me,’ ” he tells Lila. “ ‘Then I’d just be done with it’ ” (151). Robinson does not reveal the young man’s fate or the truth of his claims, but the ramifications are clear, in that he has risen up against a father who feels that he is within his rights to assert his claim to authority through physical brutality. Doll’s patricidal act is more pointed, even as it is performed in a surrogate manner in keeping with her surrogacy as a mother. Robinson emphasizes the centrality of this act by attending, as with the shawl, to the semiotic function of an object in Lila’s possession—Doll’s knife. The knife is of course a phallic weapon, in which case Doll may be seen to use the father’s weapon against himself—and against the law insofar as the father may legally maintain a system of violence. Indeed, Robinson’s text invests Doll’s knife with a presence that is not strictly material. First, she foreshadows the act in Lila’s eerily repeated memories of Doll’s knife—Doll’s careful whetting of it, for example, “long after it was as sharp as it ever would be” (135). The knife recalls Chekhov’s pistol on the wall in a play’s first act; the reader knows that, according to the economy of narrative, someone must wield it fatally by the end of the narrative. Second, the knife becomes Lila’s inheritance from Doll, who leaves it with her after the murder—as a “matrimony,” so to speak, instead of a patrimony.36 Lila keeps it with her, as a fetish object, and when the St. Louis madam asks her if she has “ ‘any little treasures you want to keep safe,’ ” she replies that the knife is “ ‘the only thing’ ” (191). She recognizes its totemic power once she is in Ames’s household, hiding it away from his handling when she begins to suspect “that the knife was like a snake, that it was in its nature to do harm if you trifled with it” (239). Given Robinson’s predilections—and her frequent interpolation of Scripture into

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her discourse—one cannot escape the echoes of Genesis here. To play with those resonances a bit, it is possible to construct an interpretation in which the knife, representing the phallic power of the patriarchy, is paradoxically both the Father’s proscription and the “snake” in the garden that must be suppressed. These two episodes reinforce the alternative model of matrilineage embedded in Lila’s relationship with Doll, brought forward in its potentiality toward the end of the novel as Lila contemplates the child she is about to bear. The moving passage returns to Lila’s fascination with the naming function of language. “You,” she thinks, addressing the child in her womb: What a strange word that is. [. . .] I have never laid eyes on you. I am waiting for you. [. . .] If I die bearing you, or if you die when you are born, I will still be thinking, Who are you? and there will be only one answer out of all the people in the world, all the people there have ever been or will ever be. [. . .] And it would be the only thing that mattered, because no one else could say “you” and mean the same thing by it (243–44). Lila finds the second-person singular pronoun the most intimate form of address, reserved for the voice of the mother to her child. “You” is the essence of the mother tongue, or at least of the mother’s tongue, the word that, like Buber’s “Thou,” performs an unencumbered act of recognizing the other. Immediately thereafter she at last extends this beneficent recognition, in the discourse of the mother, to her husband. She calls him not John Ames, the patrilineal name she has avoided speaking, but “ ‘You,’ ” and when he laughingly asks “ ‘Who else?’ ” replies “ ‘Nobody else in the world’ ” (245). It is a speech act acknowledging the singularity of the subject. Yet Robinson backs away from this glimmering of an alternative paradigm, restoring the order of the fathers as the novel reaches its conclusion. She does not share Smiley’s questioning of the viability of “home” as a stable concept, or Tyler’s critical anatomy of the crippling consequences of “home”; for Robinson, “home” is still a meaningful and comforting concept. Any faultlines in the earthly enactments of home seem erased for her by the potentialities of a heavenly home. Nor does she share Roth’s nostalgia, because she does not see that any figure or authority is truly missing: God the Father still presides. When Lila’s baby is born, he is baptized by Ames and the frail, doddering Robert Boughton, inserting him into his father’s religion under the name of the fathers. Child-bearing is thus thrust back into the narrative of the rightful paternal line. Robinson closes the novel with Lila’s reconciliatory meditation, stirred by loss—of Doll and, in anticipation, of her elderly husband—and Lila shifts registers away from the materiality of the world that has dominated her consciousness, toward spirituality. She imagines an eternity in which she meets those who have

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been lost, focusing especially on the boy who thought he had murdered his father: “He’d had the idea ‘father.’ That was what made him so desperate that his father in this life never said a gentle word to him. And there that mangy old father would be, too, because the boy couldn’t bear heaven without him” (259). Roth, channeling Hemingway, might ask, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” But for Robinson, the human capacity to imagine a reconciling heaven where fathers sit in harmony represents the act of grace.

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4 Desiring Daughters

Jeffrey Eugenides and the Odor of Cooped-up Girls—The Virgin Suicides On the second page of Jeffrey Eugenides’s first novel, The Virgin Suicides (1993), readers encounter a grotesque image: the fish flies that each year rise “in clouds from the algae in the polluted lake” to cover the cars, windows, and street lamps of the narrators’ town “in the same brown ubiquity of flying scum.” “ ‘They’re dead,’ ” a resident remarks; “ ‘They only live twentyfour hours. They hatch, they reproduce, and then they croak. They don’t even get to eat’ ” (Eugenides, Suicides 4). The life cycle of the fish flies together with the blot they place upon the town provide a framing metaphor, blackly humorous, to describe the lives of the five Lisbon sisters who are the obscure objects of the collective narrators’ voyeuristic desires. As boys, the narrators spy on the girls, and the narrative, related consistently in a firstperson plural voice, represents their efforts even as grown men to penetrate the seemingly unknowable sisters’ mysterious suicides. The Virgin Suicides offers an allegory of misreading, though in no wise conceived by Eugenides as a productively Bloomian revisionary creative act. Rather, the narrators never break through the largely misogynist perspective forged for them by the heterosexual desires inscribed within the dominant fiction of masculinity. In their contrarily hagiographic yet lustful objectification of the girls, they cannot recognize how the thwarted desires and silencing of the sisters cause their suicidal despair.1 The girls are young, they desire inchoately but according to their natures, they do not even get to eat—that is, to satisfy their appetites—before they die, and they leave the town, or at least the boys’ perceptions of it, under a dark cloud of queasy, abject life forms. The Lisbon sisters’ own viewpoint remains inaccessible as Eugenides’s collective narration pointedly refuses to allow them to be the subjects of their own stories. Their ideological entrapment within a conventional 1970s construction of white suburban US femininity is made literal when their parents, after the first sister’s suicide, imprison the remaining daughters 93

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within their house in a desperate measure to protect them—explicitly from boys, implicitly from themselves, and wholly from sexuality. Loving their daughters, the Lisbon parents are yet blind to their needs, hysterically seizing on an exaggerated version of the law of the father in an effort to preserve the girls’ lives, which in turn become effectively defined by their virginity. Mrs. Lisbon enforces strict rules for the girls; Mr. Lisbon is not only ruled by his wife but also emasculated by the exclusive presence in the house of females who “forgot he was a male.” Although he “harbor[s] doubts about his wife’s strictness,” his doubts spring from his fear not for the girls’ mental health but rather of emasculation, “that girls forbidden to dance would only attract husbands with bad complexions and sunken chests.” Eugenides adds that “the odor of all those cooped-up girls had begun to annoy him” (23), as if their adolescent bodies permeate the atmosphere with a sour efflorescence of constrained sensual desire. Eugenides satirizes the patriarchal values that Mr. Lisbon so ineffectually represents. The novel increasingly displays how Mr. Lisbon is overmastered by femininity, by its unreadability to him, and by his naïve obliviousness to female need. He signals his impotence as a father most poignantly in his futile attempt to lift Cecilia, the first suicide, from the fence spike on which she impales herself. After this trauma, he drifts into a kind of vacated subjectivity as he “recede[s] into a mist” with “the sheepish look of a poor relation” (62). He sneaks out the back door of his house and talks to plants rather than people at the school where he teaches (64), eventually so fading into absence that he begins to look “skeletal” (161), with a “sallow complexion” and “lost look” (160). His deteriorating physical presence becomes for the narrating boys an index to the girls’ decline: “his puffy red eyes that hardly opened anymore to see his daughters wasting away; his shoes scuffed from climbing stairs forever threatening to lead to another inert body” (160). Mr. Lisbon becomes a terminal figure, as it were, his shrinking presence signifying the dismantling of the myth of patriarchal power and security when confronted by the reality of female desire. I would not argue that a more robust Mr. Lisbon, if still deaf to his daughters’ claims on agency and bodily yearnings, could have saved them from their self-destruction. Rather, Eugenides’s portrait of the sisters’ father as a figure of paternal absence and abdication presides usefully over the two novels I will take up in detail in this chapter. Eugenides’s representation of Mr. Lisbon draws attention not only generally to the problem of having a father but also more specifically to the problem of mutual knowledge or understanding crossing the borders of otherness between fathers and daughters. Whereas the novels discussed in Chapter 3 open up the question of how fathers who give the lie to the father fantasy by overreaching or underperforming disrupt the domestic life of mid-twentieth-century families, Mona Simpson’s The Lost Father (1992) and Carole Maso’s The Art Lover (1990) focus more precisely on traumatized daughters who are as lost as the

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fathers who are quite literally lost to them. The daughters’ desires, of various sorts, both drive and complicate the narratives much as the odor of coopedup girls nags at Eugenides’s lost father, Mr. Lisbon.

Mona Simpson: He Was Only a Man— The Lost Father Mona Simpson’s second novel, The Lost Father, returns to the characters in her first novel, Anywhere But Here (1988), but from a radically different angle. Jacqui Smyth categorizes the story of Adele Diamond and her daughter, Ann August, in Anywhere But Here as a “female road trip” imagined according to the postwar American dream of consumer satisfactions. Smyth argues for the irony that “only when Adele is mobile is she momentarily able to escape the consumerism and the commodification that drives her impossible search for the ideal self” (116). Simpson’s novel is preoccupied with the mother/daughter relationship, moving Ann narratively toward deconstructing “commodification or [. . .] the representation of woman passed on by her mother” (Smyth 123). Adele presents to Ann a model of restless mobility, ironically seeking to fulfill the desires inscribed for her by the very ideology she hopes to resist. Of Adele’s objects of desire, for example, Smyth notes that even the replacement husband she pursues is, like the homes about which she fantasizes, “just another crucial, consumer item” (123). When Ann reappears as the central figure of The Lost Father, that titular male is no longer just a consumer item for her but an obsessively fetishized figure of traumatic absence. If Marilynne Robinson in Lila can close by intimating an alternative, compensatory paradigm of the mother’s discourse, Simpson returns in The Lost Father to a daughter whose subjectivity is regressively formed within the unregenerate dominant discourse of the patriarch. The daughter’s desire is configured almost entirely around the image of the absent father whose presence she fervently wishes to reinstate in her life. Mayan, as Ann, the narrator, refers to herself for most of The Lost Father, holds an unshakeable belief that the father—his presence, his recognition of her—is essential to the formation of her identity: “I was like a nun, making my whole life for a man who wasn’t even there” (Simpson, Lost Father 126). She feels that her father is necessary to anchor and create order in her life; losing things, replacing them, in mimicry of the defining loss in her life, she thinks, “Nothing around me was well ordered” (61). Investing her very being in her father’s presence, Mayan takes too much to heart his last words to her, as he is about to abandon her and Adele when she is very young: “ ‘Don’t forget I am your father. Nobody else can ever be that’ ” (138). The father’s command to remember him, like the urging that

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concludes Auster’s memoir, frames Mayan’s quest throughout the novel as she searches obsessively for him, aiming to answer the question she articulates to herself after she has located him: “Why you are unwanted: that is the only question” (501). Why, that is, did her father abandon her? Her quest is made consistently ironic by the fact that she remembers little, instead supplementing her scarce memories with a manufactured image of him, insubstantial and idealized. Mayan’s imagined father is far more in keeping with Freud’s notion of the family romance than with any grounded view of John Atassi, Egyptian immigrant gambler, two-timer, and former (disgraced) professor at the fictional Firth Adams College in Montana. Mayan’s quest takes the linear form of a mystery novel: she hires a detective, engages obsessively in her own acts of sleuthing, and encounters clues that are dead ends. Whereas the movement in Anywhere But Here in part signifies social mobility and escape, Mayan’s agitated mobility becomes narratively paradoxical. Her constant physical motion disguises a perpetual internal stasis; despite her strenuous travels across the country, she is as “cooped-up” psychologically as the Lisbon sisters are physically. The static condition Simpson designs for Mayan is described by Jonathan Coe as “an inert, paralysed state given over to nostalgia, reverie and irresolution” (286), a state that may be associated with traumatic experience. If trauma, from the Greek, is a “wound,” Mayan’s father’s leaving is the original wound on her mind and spirit, and she therefore conceives that to invoke his reappearance is the only possible remedy for her selfhood. She enacts the repetition compulsion that, according to the Freudian narrative, fills the halted temporality of traumatic mental experience; “I was always doing things over again in my life,” she thinks (Lost Father 61). Yet she neither stops the repetitions, nor fully understands them. As Cathy Caruth notes, following Freud, “the experience of a trauma repeats itself, exactly and unremittingly, through the unknowing acts of the survivor and against his very will” (2). Mayan’s compulsive but ill-informed meditations on her father’s identity ironically undermine the linear narrative of detection she puts in motion in pursuit of him, insofar as she is almost willfully ignorant of the character of her quest’s object. Mayan’s condition of psychological stasis—her obsession with finding the missing father to fill the lack in her sense of herself—stops her as if at the moment of his leaving and contributes to the narrative effects noted by several reviewers. The Lost Father can, as Judith Timson suggests, feel stalled, since it is “difficult for any writer [. . .] to make someone’s absence as compelling as his presence”; Carolyn Cooke likewise finds that the center of the book “slogs” (495).2 Indeed, despite the lyricism of her prose and immaculate detailing of Mayan’s interiority, Simpson may appear too overt and relentless in defining her narrator in relation to her father’s absence, which seems to leave an impression on nearly every page. “I grew up without a father,” she immediately announces (Lost Father 4); and soon thereafter,

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“All my life I had been looking for my father” (9). The Lost Father possesses, from its title onward, the most singularly focused, straightforward, even obvious representation of the problem of the postpatriarchal father among all the novels considered in this study; it offers no resistance to such an interpretation but rather places it always centrally before the reader. However successful one may judge Simpson’s choice aesthetically, the longueurs and nearly compulsive over-detailing of Mayan’s state of mind and environment may be the writer’s very point. Her storytelling strategy puts the reader in the position of the narrator who is trapped in the repetition of her desire to fill her lack, conceiving her life at first only of waiting and thereafter only as searching, all of her psychic energies concentrated on absence and endless deferral. “Waiting became our deepest habit” (139), Mayan confides about herself and her mother. “He lived everywhere and nowhere. He could come back, any day, so we had to be ready all the time. We lived like that, jangled, for years, looking over our shoulders, feeling nervous and watched, expecting. [. . .] My father was like God. He seemed always to be watching” (32). Mayan’s perception of the absent God the father who is always watching places her, from her perspective, as an eternal object to another’s gaze. When in his inscrutability the father perversely takes on the omniscience of the Father, he also takes on the patriarchal function of judgment, though wholly internalized, as he is present to Mayan only as a figment of her imagination. “Father had become the name for a rock, a stark gray cliff in the Colorados,” she thinks, “the echoing forever unanswered” (258). Her task, as she conceives it, becomes to answer the echo her father’s absence sends back to her by acting only for him, to please the image she has constructed of him, even to the point of self-abnegation. Slavoj Žižek’s account of psychoanalytic identification with an Other who is always a cipher to the desiring subject offers a useful framework for thinking about Simpson’s representation of Mayan’s longing for John Atassi. Žižek focuses on the “famous” question posed by Lacan, “Che vuoi?” (111)—most simply, What do you want?—and points out the intractable circularity of desire. Žižek argues that “imaginary identification is always identification on behalf of a certain gaze in the Other,” such that the subject engages in “imitation of a model-image” for whom he or she enacts a role; Žižek thus asks, “Which gaze is considered when the subject identifies himself with a certain image?” In other words, the Other whom the subject identifies with and imitates is an imaginary projection of that subject. The model-image potentially bears little relation to the real of the Other. In specifically addressing a “hysterical woman” as a subject, furthermore, Žižek suggests that “on the symbolic level she is [. . .] identified with the paternal gaze, to which she wants to appear likeable” (106, italics in original). Accordingly, in addressing her mythic inflation of the fatherimage, Mayan paradoxically performs largely for her own solipsistic gaze at herself.

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Simpson’s use of first-person narration conveys the reflexive, claustrophobic illogic of desire for the Other, especially once Mayan’s consuming desire to find her father begins to consume her materially. Simpson figures Mayan’s desire concretely in motifs representing the various hungers of bodily appetites and financial means. After episodes in which Mayan gorges herself on foods, gaining weight rapidly, she reverses herself and stops eating, wasting away to the point of collapse; her hysterical desire, displaced onto her body, knows no moderation. She likewise squanders her entire small inheritance from her grandmother, hiring a blithely incompetent detective and running up huge telephone bills by making dozens of longdistance calls in her futile efforts to trace her father.3 That she becomes so wrapped up in her pursuit as to make herself ill is symptomatic of trauma, in that she cannot stand outside herself to see—herself, or, for that matter, the integrity of the father implied by his initial and ongoing disappearance. Caruth writes that “Traumatic experience [. . .] suggests a certain paradox: that the most direct seeing of a violent event may occur as an absolute inability to know it,” and that the “repetitions of the traumatic event” are bound to “incomprehensibility” (91–92). Mayan’s lack of or resistance to self-knowledge is revealed in her control over the narration; she only glancingly acknowledges her self-harm as such, largely leaving the diagnosis of her increasingly pathological condition to inference via her report of others’ responses to her. In a curious if less extreme way, Mayan’s narration recalls that of the first-person narrator of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s brilliantly executed story The Yellow Wallpaper (1892). Gilman’s protagonist is driven mad by her awareness of her husband watching and controlling her, and yet the fact that the narration remains confined to her voice normalizes her increasingly erratic and self-destructive behavior. So, too, with Mayan, who is several times “rescued,” without any acknowledgment on her part that she requires rescue, by her friend Emily and her would-be lover, Jordan. When, for example, she crosses the country to pursue traces of her missing father at Firth Adams College, only to be stymied by a staff member who refuses to break the rules by sharing Atassi’s personal information, she finds herself “sobbing and yelling, pulling a piece of my hair out.” Immediately thereafter, however, as if to cancel out the passion of the moment, “an odd thing happened. I disappeared. I was truly invisible. The office took on an odd sound. [. . .] It was the sound of the world without me” (Lost Father 366). Mayan’s narration in the face of this self-erasure remains curiously detached and indifferent in tone; when, next, she opens her hotel door to discover Jordan, who has followed her from the east coast to save her from herself, she neutrally and with little regret or empathy observes that “He was looking to see me really as I was and he was watching his love leave, like a person packing” (367). Simpson repeatedly makes it clear that Mayan is driven blindly by her fetishistic desire for the presence of a father—indeed for the father fantasy—

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if not, as eventually emerges, for her father himself. The novel casts her desire in terms of two fulfillments available solely from a father figure, recognition and reparation. She conceives that together, these actions will answer the question of her identity—“What was I going to be, I wondered” (209)—rather like Žižek’s question, “che vuoi?” Mayan seeks recognition through two means. The first, obviously, is contact with her father in person; at one point in her quest, imagining the possibility that John Atassi might already have died, she thinks, “I was not ready for him to be dead [. . .] before I saw him and he recognized me as his child” (258). Like Cody in Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, or Jack in Robinson’s Gilead trilogy, Mayan yearns like any abandoned or orphaned child, presupposing that to be seen will complete an identity, grant agency, make the child herself present, conditions otherwise missing from a rootless self. Her other path toward recognition lies, she thinks, more closely within her control, concerning how she is named to the world. Known as Ann August in Anywhere But Here, she begins the narrative of The Lost Father as Ann Stevenson, taking the last name of her stepfather, which she “started using” when she came to live with her grandmother (339).4 Early in the narrative of the present, she resumes her given first name, Mayan, which she identifies as Egyptian like her father, but when she explains it, she displays her ironic view of the familial connection by saying her name is spelled “ ‘Like the ruins’ ” (143). Furthermore, she notes that the name on her driver’s license and lines of credit is Mayan Amneh Stevenson, “a kind of alias and not legal” (338), because even her surrogate father, Ted Stevenson, failed to adopt her. Although she asserts of her biological father that “[h]is family name we had lost” (339), as the narrative progresses, she begins to use her legal family name, Atassi, instead of Stevenson. Clearly, Mayan’s sequential renaming indicates her chaotic, ambivalent identity, and though the progression of her choices seems to move her toward a symbolic reconciliation with the father, adopting his name does not suffice. Once she finds him, their interaction is empty, even boring, and she thinks, “I had recognized him and he did not know me, his only child” (474). That the filial reconciliation is at best compromised appears also in relation to the other desire Mayan expresses, for reparation. She travels the globe in fruitless pursuit of her father across the breadth of the United States and halfway around the world, to Egypt. Simpson’s narrative irony is that only once she follows an obvious lead she and the detective failed to pursue does Mayan at last find him, living quietly and working at a restaurant in Modesto, California. The object she then conceives for reparation is prefigured according to a passing memory and metaphor Simpson associates with her protagonist’s given name: “I was Mayan, a word you could finger like two beads on a chain. I had a chain with just two pearls,” an “add-apearl-necklace” she received as a child when accompanying her parents to a restaurant serving oysters. Recalling the plenitude of these meals, which

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disappeared with her father, Mayan describes the force of desire: “We had such appetite. The thing I still love best about us, my mother and me, is that we wanted so” (339). Once she finds John Atassi, she therefore fixates her wanting on inciting him to buy her a string of pearls, as the fetish object that she imagines will be the appropriate material supplement to the lack that has marked her history: “I wanted pearls. I wanted something from my father. I don’t know which came first” (477). He not only remains deaf to her hints, however, but instead buys her a crystal clock (489), as if cruelly to signify to her the time she has lost in her obsessive search for him, and then he unwittingly insults her further when she notices the “large, generous pearls” (496) that he has given his mistress. John Atassi makes no reparations because he is too self-involved even to recognize his daughter’s need for him to do so. Mayan’s desire for recognition and reparation recalls the Lacanian process of individuation, with all its ambiguities, in that to be recognized as an Other simultaneously installs a permanent sense of loss and estrangement. Mayan has inklings of this effect, thinking, “Even though I was always looking, sometimes I didn’t want to find him” (72). Thereafter, seeing her father, and being seen by him, uncovers how the ineffectual, selfish subject she finds in the familial mirror parodies the heightened Other she had imagined. Indeed, the sense of abiding futility, a gap impossible to bridge, appears as another traumatic repetition in Mayan’s consciousness: no fewer than three times, Simpson has her think almost verbatim, “Maybe by the time you found a person, they were always beside the point. You don’t need them so much anymore” (443, 395, 446). Mayan’s discovery has two related implications: first, that one should not look to others to complete the self; and second, that others must necessarily disappoint the images one projects onto them. Indeed, the man she discovers is anything but a shining pearl within a rough oyster shell; he is grit, not a god, and utterly ordinary: “Disappearing was all you had to do to become somebody’s god,” she thinks; “And maybe being found was all it took to be mortal again” (444). Simpson stacks the deck, as John Atassi is a virtual caricature of a flawed mortal. He is an inveterate gambler and a Machiavellian conniver (328) who tries to steal the money of the women he leads on a college trip to Egypt; he is a liar, an unfaithful husband, and a womanizer; he suffers from “ ‘delusions of grandeur’ ” (336) regarding his personal capacities and the status of his Egyptian family, whom Mayan has been told are “royal [. . .] one of the nine richest in Egypt” (44); he lacks all curiosity about the life of his only daughter (463); and he is so constitutionally incapable of challenging his moral sense that he feels “no guilt” (485) for his shabby treatment of others. To Mayan, her father in the flesh exemplifies the problem of mythmaking, since her contact with him undermines every myth she had cherished in constructing her family romance. When she tracks down his history at the college in the

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west, she realizes, in a humorous if deflating zeugmatic formulation, that “He wasn’t everywhere and nowhere. He was just here in Montana,” and she feels “duped” (365). Her father is no dashing Omar Sharif, as she has imagined him, nor is he, as he asserts to his daughter, “the John F. Kennedy of Egypt” (500). Rather, she concludes bitterly, “He was only a man” (475), and a deeply flawed one with little integrity and less connection to his daughter. The law of this father consists of narcissism, greed, irresponsibility, and duplicity, not the higher values or social order normally constructed as ideal within patriarchal discourse. In this regard, Simpson’s representation of the lost father exemplifies the paradox that Žižek identifies with respect to the Lacanian phallic signifier: “The phallic signifier is [. . .] an index of its own impossibility. In its very positivity it is the signifier of ‘castration’—that is, of its own lack. [. . .] This is the logic of the phallic inversion which sets in when the demonstration of power starts to function as a confirmation of a fundamental impotence” (157). Insofar as John Atassi signifies “father” to Mayan, specifically the father-function associated with the Lacanian narrative of psychological development, he is a “phallic” male who, in his literal and moral absence, demonstrates that he is “castrated.” Ironically, he does represent the fatherfunction she seeks, but only insofar as the patriarch is unmasked as an empty signifier, confirming, as Žižek has it, a fundamental impotence. Simpson seems to move Mayan past this point in the novel’s brief epilogue, however, using the language of beginnings, endings, and recovery, turning her toward the love that she was previously unable to feel or express, and apparently sloughing off the bitter recognition of failure, impotence, and the vacancy of identity. Mayan asserts that she does not regret her quest or her discovery of her father and generally seems to claim reconcilement and redemption: “He gave us ourselves back in real light” (Lost Father 504). Yet a further irony emerges from Simpson’s text: in Mayan’s grossly misdirected obsession to reestablish the figure of the father in his place of authority and authenticity, as she constructs it, she reveals how little attuned she is to the otherness of the other—to her father’s own reality. In this regard, she shows herself as truly her father’s daughter. Simpson’s protagonist thus provides a cautionary image of a postpatriarchal offspring: Mayan curiously reduplicates, or speaks, the Name-of-the-Father, but only by exposing her own narcissism.

Carole Maso: The Art of Losing—The Art Lover Like Simpson’s Lost Father, Carole Maso’s The Art Lover, published two years earlier, concerns traumatic loss, which Maso likewise figures most notably as loss of the father. While both novels circulate around the paternal fetish object, conceived according to the fantasized projections of the family

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romance, however, they do so with distinctive differences. Simpson’s protagonist fully believes that her father is alive somewhere, just missing, and therefore retrievable; Maso’s must reckon with the permanent loss of death. Whereas The Lost Father charts a largely linear narrative trajectory, filling in backstory but moving purposefully toward the ironic completion of Mayan’s quest, The Art Lover takes a fragmentary approach— multilayered, multigeneric, multimedia. Maso circles mostly between two narratives, one framing the other, and includes abundant paratexts, especially interpolated visual images—reproductions of art works, photographs, signs, “typed” letters, newspaper items, star charts, and so forth—as well as copyright credits in the end matter and numerous subheads that fragment the discourse throughout the novel. The form then eddies toward a disconcertingly autobiographical climactic chapter and final “Author’s Note.” Both novels are lyrical in their prose style, but while Simpson’s is committed to fairly straightforward psychological realism, narrowly focused on the narrating protagonist, Maso compounds the presentation of interiority within a highly reflexive form, spreading the consciousness under examination across a range of voices, including several first-person narrators, at times addressing a second-person “you,” and a narration that shifts inconsistently between an apparent third-person perspective and an intrusive “I” voice. The metafictional form of Maso’s novel determinedly but unpredictably shifts a reader’s attention among plural storyworlds and the “real” world, the visual and the verbal, found and invented objects. If the goal of Simpson’s novel appears to be first to resist, then to reconcile to, literal and metaphysical loss of the father, Maso’s seems more capacious, less end-directed and determinate, in its exploration of what Elizabeth Bishop calls in the villanelle “One Art,” “The art of losing”—a knack that the poet sardonically repeats “isn’t hard to master” (178). Maso’s novel of loss demonstrates such mastery, also repeatedly, as well as its attendant ambiguities. To master the art of losing might mean simply to become reconciled to it, or, to the contrary, it might mean to learn how to reverse, repair, or erase the sense of loss. “Art” may be a mere skill, an accomplished gesture or event, or it might imply the predominance of form, such that the “art of losing” would refer primarily to the effective representation of enduring pain in the progressive tense, and not to its safe enclosure within a past-tense expression. Like Bishop’s poem, Maso’s fictive treatment of the condition of losing introduces a problematic view not only of loss itself, but also of art as an approach to managing—and mastering—life. In a sense, Maso wants to have it several, contradictory ways: to confirm the longstanding faith in art to contain and project grief through the principles of aesthetic ordering, and yet to undercut art for its deceptiveness, its myths of order and control, especially insofar as the myths represent a patriarchal tradition; to find new forms within which to represent the problem of loss in language and story, and yet to take comfort by recurring to the consoling

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(perhaps tired) sentiments she might otherwise defiantly reject. In the end, the forms and even metaphors to which Maso appeals in order to open up inquiry and feeling bind her to the ordering authority and functions she longs to repudiate. Both novels appear to originate in an autobiography of loss. According to Scott Martelle in a brief 2010 profile, Simpson’s repeated depictions of the consequences of absent fathers in Anywhere But Here, The Lost Father, and A Regular Guy (1996) are traceable to “her own childhood in a fatherless household.” Martelle asserts that The Lost Father is specifically “about her quest to find her own father, who left when she was a four-year-old in Green Bay, Wis” (21). While one may discern traces of her life story underlying Simpson’s novel, she does nothing overtly to invite such an interpretation. Maso, however, explicitly admits how The Art Lover stems from her own experiences, drawing her compositional process closer to the autofictional impulses evident in the work of, say, Paul Auster, discussed in Chapter 5, Philip Roth, in Chapter  7, and Tim O’Brien, in Chapter  8. Maso tells an interviewer that “I was very upset and disturbed during most of the writing of The Art Lover. [. . .] My friend had just died, and I was [. . .] feeling obsessed with illness and obsessed with the end of certain kinds of possibility” (Cooley 33). Maso’s friend, the artist Gary Falk, whose graphic work is reproduced in the novel (e.g., Maso, Art Lover 142, 151, 166, 206), died of AIDS. She undisguisedly recounts the tragic loss in the brief, late chapter “More Winter” (195–206), in which “Carole,” the chapter’s “I,” directs her voice at a “you” named “Gary,” and she accompanies the novel’s concluding “Author’s Note” with a photograph of herself with Gary Falk. A first-time reader may be confused by the unprepared interpenetration of Maso’s life with the lives she invents, but the device proves essential to the therapeutic dimension of her novel. Although Simpson’s presentation of Mayan Atassi’s response to her father’s absence might aptly be described according to the Freudian narrative of grief, especially insofar as Mayan seems stuck within a static experience of endless pursuit and repeated action, Maso’s novel offers an even more complex portrait of the condition by way of her multidimensional narrative. Freud explored the problem of the grieving subject in “Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through” (1914) and “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917), succinctly summarized by Dominick LaCapra: Freud, in comparing melancholia with mourning, saw melancholia as characteristic of an arrested process in which the depressed, self-berating, and traumatized self, locked in compulsive repetition, is possessed by the past, faces a future of impasses, and remains narcissistically identified with the lost object. Mourning brings the possibility of engaging trauma and achieving a reinvestment in [. . .] life which allows one to begin again (Writing History 65–66).

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LaCapra notes that mourning can “allow for a measure of critical distance, change, resumption of social life, ethical responsibility, and renewal”; the “memory work” allows the bereaved one to “distinguish between past and present and to recognize something as having happened to one [. . .] back then which is related to, but not identical with, here and now” (66). He goes on to link Freud’s twin concepts of acting-out and working-through, respectively, to melancholia and mourning. Acting-out, a feature of the repetition compulsion, involves a principle according to which “one has a mimetic relation to the past which is regenerated or relived as if it were fully present rather than represented in memory and inscription”; workingthrough brings repressed material to consciousness, enabling “a relation to the past that recognizes its difference from the present,” allowing one to act in a way “that simultaneously remembers and takes at least partial leave of it” (History and Memory 45). In this way, with regard to the problem of absence, LaCapra suggests that “mourning might be seen as a form of working through, and melancholia as a form of acting out” (Writing History 65), with the former being the desirable condition to attain.5 When Maso breaks the contract with the reader by disrupting The Art Lover’s fictional frame with the tale of Gary Falk’s illness and death, she uncovers by contrast her overt choice to represent loss and melancholic repetition largely in relation to father figures. Although the initiating loss within the extradiegetic world of the author Maso’s life is of a (male) friend, she displaces that loss, at two diegetic removes, into the paternal characters she invents, Henry and Max. The art of the novel thus represents the author’s engagement with displacement as the key to beginning the process of working-through. Indeed, the two embedded fictive stories might be viewed as parallel examples of “Carole’s” acting-out of “Gary’s” death—and therefore, from a therapeutic point of view, of Maso’s acting-out of Falk’s death. In recounting the development of the novel, Maso notes, “I had first started writing about the fictive family that Caroline writes about [. . .] Then these things started to happen. It’s interesting to me how directly I allow my life to be used, not autobiographically, but to be used to write from” (Cooley 34). “Used to write from” is a deceptively simple formulation, since it at once implies identification, projection, and a kind of self-exploitation. To be fair, she first conceived of the novel as the story of Maggie, Henry, and their daughters Candace and Alison—the characters who appear in the opening pages of the published book—for whom the father’s absence consists in his infidelity and intentional abandonment of his family. The matter of a father’s disappearance was thus always on the horizon in Maso’s compositional imagination. The encounter with lived trauma in the world beyond the text, however, moved Maso to redesign the novel’s form such that the story of Henry’s adultery and disavowal of his wife and daughters becomes, as it were, the innermost one, the story within the story of Caroline Chrysler, who writes

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the embedded novel-in-progress as she mourns the death of her father, Max. In moving among the diegetic levels from (fictive) abandonment to (fictive) death and eventually on to (real, historical) death, Maso raises the narrative and emotional stakes as the novel approaches the “More Winter” chapter.6 Her choice of multiple narrative levels thus capitalizes on the ambiguities of quasi-autobiographical writing by replacing the real trauma of Gary Falk’s death with the invented traumas of absent fathers, for whom the respective daughters, like “Carole” and Maso herself, face the project of turning the acting-out of melancholy into the working-through of mourning.7 In thus displacing the traumatic subject for the greater part of her narrative, Maso emphasizes the dependency between the (female) narrator and her (male) object of narration as specifically filial rather than solely companionable. In the autobiographical voice of “More Winter,” Maso expresses deep distress for Gary, repeatedly conveying her desire to write the truth of his suffering—“I am trying to get this down” (Art Lover 198)—and acknowledging the futility and failure of writing: “I know, Gary, to write it down is always to get it wrong. But here, wanting you back, it’s the closest I can get to heaven” (199). She projects this longing for representation—for control of loss by way of supplementing absence in language—into the nested and interpenetrating fictional narratives about and by Caroline. If the actual loss stimulating Maso’s fantasies of absence is, as it were, of a lateral kinship (platonic friend to friend), the family romances invented within her two levels of fiction-making take the form of hierarchical relations—parent to child, authority to dependent. This move opens up the postpatriarchal thematics of the novel; the bulk of The Art Lover relies on the psychoanalytic paradigm instanced in the father-daughter bond. Maso thus shifts the ground from a more general narrative of grief, according to which a bereft survivor moves from stasis to a reconciled condition that resumes temporality, toward a process inflected with the ambivalences of the familial tie marked by inescapable imbalances of power and the fraught intimacies of uncensored histories. Maso’s move toward depicting fathers as fetish objects colors the daughters’ longing with an ideologically inscribed desire for the sense of order the (female) subject may lose when a (male) figure of authority vanishes, a desire unlikely to be addressed within the egalitarian relation of friendship—and therefore also far less in accordance with the feminist politics that Maso elsewhere expresses. The Art Lover considers these concerns most fully in relation to the titular notion of art, which infuses the narrative as a whole with related implications of order, desire, and distance as well as with questions of origin. Maso draws on longstanding notions of what art can do to help humans respond to the chaos and impermanence of life, especially in relation to Caroline’s pivotal position in the narrative. Bringing order and recording are her principal aims; Caroline thinks, for example, “I am a lover of detail, a marker—it’s a way of keeping the world in place” (12); “Categorizing helps.

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[. . .] Lists help. Columns. Especially when keeping track of things that are gone” (39). She has a “passion for documentation” (27) and recalls when Max, following her mother’s death, told her the story of Cimabue discovering the young shepherd, Giotto, drawing his sheep, “ ‘so that he could keep them [. . .] So they would not go away’ ” (52). Once her father abandons her by dying, she asks, “Do I try to find a manageable shape for you? Do I put my rage for you into art, where it is acceptable?” (117). Maso has Caroline anticipate the aesthetic formulation that recurs in Carole’s hope to resurrect Gary through representation. “It should be possible to make the words work” (166), Caroline thinks, in conveying her love to Steven, her young friend dying of AIDS who is the most literal projection of Maso’s biography into the fictive regions of the text. Later in the narrative, Carole repeats, almost verbatim, to Gary, the interlocutor she fantasizes just as Caroline fantasizes Max: “It should be possible to do something with words” (203). Maso’s view of art, of the something one might do with words or images, pointedly invokes a specifically female perspective. Her fictions repeatedly explore the possibilities of narrative form, especially insofar as feminine writing might differ from masculine writing. In discussing her prose poem sequence, Aureole (1996), for example, she writes, “Without apology, I have tried to create something of a feminine space. New kinds of intimacies. I do not believe in the myth of ungendered writing” (“Except Joy,” Break 130).8 In an essay on her novel AVA (1993) aptly titled “Precious, Disappearing Things,” Maso remarks her “distrust of the inherited, patriarchal forms” (Break 66) and argues that “In an attempt to ward off death with its chaos and mess, traditional fiction had flourished. Its attempts to organize, make manageable and comprehensible with its reassuring logic, in effect, reassures no one. [. . .] mainstream fiction has become death with its complacent, unequivocal truths” (67); and she quotes Hélène Cixous: “ ‘The ideal or the dream would be to come up with a language that heals as much as it separates’ ” (68). By implication, “mainstream” or “traditional” fiction appears to be governed by a post-Enlightenment patriarchal mode and ideology that must be “healed” by recourse to measures that evade “reassuring logic” and “unequivocal truths.” Taking gendered writing as a framing concept for understanding the participation of The Art Lover in the history of literary art, Charles B. Harris follows Maso’s cue. He persuasively argues that she rejects the modes hallowed by the “Dead Fathers of modernism” (173) because she concludes that the “modernist view of art, with its false assurances of orderliness and transcendence, must itself be forsaken” (159)—that, indeed, an “impersonal” art committed to an objectifying distance, as exemplified in T. S. Eliot’s 1917 manifesto, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” is implicitly masculine and in the end “life-denying” (161). Yet the view of literary art Maso asserts, in repudiating her literary “fathers,” uncovers a contradiction underlying her choice of fathers as the fetish objects to represent in her novel. Rejection of

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the patriarchal aesthetic tradition would seem by extension to repudiate the analogous fathers who are overtly mourned as authority figures within Maso’s novel. Is this contradiction rooted in a fundamental categorical difference, such that mourning for a biological father is unrelated to feelings toward a symbolic paternal figure of authority? Or does this contradiction suggest an irreconcilable ambivalence in Maso the author and/or Maso the child and friend—a translation, perhaps, of an oedipal resistance? What is her view of the father and his authority? And what can art do to address the condition of grief, if order and distance—crucial conventions of aesthetic form, however inscribed by the fathers—must be abandoned? Can they be abandoned? Visual art offers a crucial starting point to explore this apparent conundrum, and particularly how Maso inquires within the discourse of The Art Lover into what literary art might do to convey an understanding of loss. An early interpolated image shows a detail of Giotto’s painting, Noli me tangere. Giotto depicts Jesus drawing away from a kneeling Magdalene, her hands stretched beseechingly toward him as his body angles away even while he turns to look at her, his hand leaving her behind. Maso reproduces varied details of the painting through the course of her text, refocusing the reader’s attention with a view toward exploring the unbridgeable gap between the figures’ hands that so devastatingly tells a story of loss—the gap enacts human distance, but also the artist’s and viewer’s distance on the story of the human catastrophe. To emphasize her purpose, Maso inserts a reproduced fragment, as if torn from a page of James Stubblebine’s overview of the Arena Chapel frescoes, that quotes “the very human tragedy of two people at a fateful and final moment, separated by an enormous gulf although they are close enough to touch” (Art Lover 27; Stubblebine 94).9 Maso uses Giotto’s fresco to visualize the theme of loss as a concrete but also mythic moment in time and space, as an analogue to her aim in the multiple narratives that act out melancholic loss within the metaphorically dark spaces of The Art Lover. She deepens the questions that Giotto’s painting helps her ask by shifting attention to the viewer’s relation to the object when she incorporates reproductions of Vermeer’s Head of a Young Girl (known familiarly as The Girl with the Pearl Earring; Art Lover 57–58) together with the analysis of another scholar, Edward Snow, from his 1979 Study of Vermeer. Like Stubblebine’s words, Snow’s appear cut and pasted directly onto the page of the novel. Snow describes the viewer’s experience before Vermeer’s intimate painting: It is me at whom she gazes, with real, unguarded human emotions, and with an erotic intensity that demands something just as real and human in return. [. . .] Faced with an expression that seems always to have already elicited our response, that not only seeks out but appropriates and inhabits our

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gaze, we can scarcely separate what is visible on the canvas from what happens inside us as we look at it. Indeed, it seems the essence of the image to subvert the distance between seeing and feeling, to deny the whole vocabulary of “objective” and “subjective.” (Art Lover 58, italics in original) Maso thus uses Vermeer, and Snow’s commentary on the painting, to suggest that to maintain aesthetic distance is as problematic as to do so with human distance; her goal is to find an expressive capacity that, like Vermeer’s, “den[ies] the whole vocabulary of ‘objective’ and ‘subjective.’ ” Hence the intrusions of the autobiographical into the fictive—a strategic compositional choice that, she reveals, her publisher, North Point Press, found so transgressive as to urge her to drop the fifth section from the novel, along with all of the graphic images (Victoria Harris 106). How depleted the novel would have been had Maso not stood her ground, since her displacement of the content of mourning into allegories of form would have been erased. If she conceives that her quest to comprehend loss in art requires the reader’s seemingly unmediated encounter with feeling, she must find a language and form to acknowledge and, if possible, close the gap between subjectivity and objectivity within the triangulated relationship of reader, writer, and writer’s object. To this end, Maso introduces dialogics as a fundamental narrative strategy in The Art Lover, visible in two primary features of the novel introduced within the opening pages. The metafictional narrative structure, juxtaposing and intertwining the two fictive stories with the autobiographical story, constitutes the novel’s most fundamental dialogical device, evidenced in part by frequent, unprepared shifts in narrative voices. Furthermore, Maso literalizes the dialogical relationship in a central premise of one of the fictive stories, in which Caroline consistently addresses herself to Max, a “you” who is always absent, his voice ventriloquized through Caroline’s memory—and invention—of him. The first dialogical device appears in the opening paragraphs, which begin with a painting-like description of family members on the beach, described as though from a distanced third-person perspective—the voice of a heterodiegetic narrator—but then Maso briefly recalibrates the reader’s impression by interrupting the narration with a self-conscious first-person voice, a homodiegetic narrator expressing uncertainty about the accuracy of the account we’re reading: “ ‘The sun’ I think is what he says,” referring to the father figure, later identified as Henry; and when “another girl” rises from the water, “I see she is a woman really, a young woman” (Art Lover 5, 6, italics added), later known to be Candace, the elder daughter. The “I” voice, which we subsequently learn to be the authorial voice of Caroline, intrudes more markedly in the next short chapter, registering more uncertainty when she underscores her position as a viewer alien to the family

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circle, and as if she has been construing not an intimate reality but rather a picture at a distance: “for now the light is what I notice most”; “I cannot guess yet how remote I, the onlooker, I the one who is telling their story, have become, how cautious”; the voice clarifies the aesthetic point: “They are still just a lovely picture, a word picture of a family” (8). Maso thus puts into “conversation” the distinctive positions of narrators with different investments in and “knowledge” of the stories they narrate even while collapsing the distance between them. She thereby not only anticipates discursively the novel’s interaction between fictional and autobiographical narratives but also links the problem of knowing with the way distance constructs the stance of objectivity and its objects within forms and raises fundamental questions about how distinct subjectivity may in fact be from objectivity. Maso reinforces the instability of the narrating voice relative to the “facts” being recounted by framing the next section under the title, “A Few of the Things I Know About You” (9). The subhead thus implies all of the things “I” may not know about the object of the narration—that object being Caroline’s father, Max, killed by a stroke.10 It is in Caroline’s storyline that Maso most exposes the daughter’s dependency on the father’s authority according to what she does know, which is to say, according to how she subjectively perceives her father. Max, described by Caroline as “cerebral, exacting, lively, passionate” as well as “elegant” and “irresistible” to women, “had a genuine appreciation for life and also a deep cynicism that struck me more often than not simply as good sense” (9). An art historian who began his career as a painter, Max modelled for his daughter “Life of the mind. And of the body” (14), with special attention to his “love of seeing,” which she sees linked to his “love of simile and metaphor. Your love of me, too, I’d like to think” (50). Maso represents Caroline projecting her homage to her father into her invention of Alison’s character, who views “Daddy” as “clarifying the world” (6), even as she projects into Alison’s older sister, Candace, her childish anger at Max for disappearing. Candace rages at Henry’s choice to abandon the girls with their mother and longs to become “a detective, a spy, destroying her father’s life as he had destroyed hers” (53). In her fiction, Caroline thus tries out contrary responses to the missing father, even as Maso tries them out via Caroline. Caroline, for example, is impelled to uncover the story of her mother, dead by suicide when Caroline was young. In turn, she must also expose unsavory aspects of her father’s aestheticism and intellectualism—his love of seeing, his love of figurative language, both of which allow him to gain distance on the objects of his perception. As a painter with a beautiful young wife, he made Veronica an object of his gaze and art, and Caroline wonders whether this objectification drove Veronica to her death: “did you want to turn her into paint and canvas?” she asks; “Put her out there where she was manageable?” To which Max replies, evasively, “ ‘I did my best, Caroline’ ” (45).11

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Caroline questions the aesthetic detachment she perceives in Max’s relations with her dead mother, perhaps signifying his alignment with a masculinist perspective. She also discerns a complementary possibility, that in recognizing Veronica’s distress and abjection, he attempted to relieve and restore her by way of his art: “Max, did you try to paint her into a life?” she asks (49, 72)—an act that still objectifies and controls even as it empathetically aspires to save. This is just one example of many direct addresses from Caroline to Max, which constitute the most literal dialogical interactions within the novel, and which clearly reiterate “Carole’s” yearning to reach her dead friend Gary in the “More Winter” chapter: “Gary, I am trying to talk to you,” Carole pleads, distressed that “I don’t know where your ashes went” (200). This dialogue between the living and the dead is, in fact, a central premise of the Caroline narrative and the novel as a whole. Caroline implores the absent Max, “Can you hear me?” (39), seeking his advice and clarifications, addressing her questions and meditations to a painfully absent paternal interlocutor; “I am tired of all this death, Max” (89), she says. When Max does reply in the text, it seems at times that her memory reproduces a past “actual” conversation, but the positioning of his voice as an enactment of Caroline’s desires most often suggests that he speaks only within her imagined discourse. “Max” is, indeed, a complementary fiction, a family romance, to the story she self-consciously writes about Henry’s family. Her appeals to Max suggest a daughter devoted to the father’s authority. She fears disappointing him, for example—“I knew, at any moment I seemed ordinary to you, unexceptional. You had no allegiances other than to excellence” (116)—and projects into her alter ego, Candace, her anxiety over losing a sense of her identity altogether: “with the loss of her father,” Candace thinks, “some idea of herself had been taken away, the loss of a world she believed in” (144–45). Maso emphasizes the novel’s multilayered allegiance to the father’s authority when she has Caroline, in crafting her young character Alison, both raise and elide the distinction between earthly and heavenly fathers. Alison engages in acts of ordering to deflect her grief, labeling, laminating, and organizing the names of trees during the fall following Henry’s abandonment so that she can recognize the trees once their leaves have fallen (94–95). Alison’s figurative gesture to contain loss displaces her need to manage her father’s disappearance. Caroline enters into dialogical conversation with Alison’s naïve faith in the order that mimics the father’s: when Alison practices her catechism, Caroline inserts a demurral within a juxtaposed parenthetical, as Max’s imagined voice gets the last word in the section: “(‘I’m afraid we made God, Caroline. He did not make us.’)” (97). Doubt climaxes in a subsequent section whose title, “Hello. Can you hear me?” echoes Carole and Caroline’s parallel questions, respectively, to Gary and Max; in catechism format, the text raises the possibility that an irresponsible, objectifying Father has been addressed as the “you”:

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What is it? What is it, my beauty, my work of art? [. . .] Why did you make us? (Silence) [. . .] Why am I here? [. . .] What is the message I am supposed to leave? I’m very busy. Really, you have no idea. Are you trying to tell me something? (99)

The Father (or father) who sees his beseeching daughter as a work of art and answers only with silence or narcissistic deflection is effectively a deus absconditus. The trauma of this apparently willed absence resembles the rather shocking moment when, after her mother’s death, Caroline reports, “Max forbade [her and her twin brothers] to call him Dad anymore” (118); “Call me Max, you said when I was seven” (184). This might explain why Caroline drives Candace to an infuriated repudiation of all things paternal. Asserting angrily that she was deceived in believing that her father loved her family, she shouts, “ ‘I do not believe in any of the fathers. I do not believe in Science or Medicine. [. . .] I do not believe in God. I do not accept that it is a man’s world’ ” (160). Yet in Candace’s fervent denial one might detect not only an antipatriarchal rhetoric but also the complementary force of her allegiance, however disappointed—and perhaps that of her nested creators, Caroline and Carole. It is not, I think, that the lady protests too much, but rather that Maso makes room not only for fury and disillusionment, but also for empathy for the all-too-human father. Most notably, Caroline comes to see that Max’s unresolved grief for the dead Veronica—whom he could neither forget nor forgive, and whom he looked for “in every other woman”—caused him to find his own “way to proceed”: “You tried to teach us something about art,” she thinks, “its consoling nature, its transcendent nature, its ability to help distance” (185). The novel cannot in this respect evade its premise of grief, which implies the speaking subjects’ nostalgic desire to restore the lost objects within the narrative’s field of vision as well as their own lives. Nor can it evade the essential ambivalence implicit in its views of both father figures and the art they promote and survive within, which does seem to demand order and critical distance. Like Maso in the novel as a whole, Caroline takes on the role of writer because she believes that words not only order but memorialize; “Shall I write you an epitaph? You who have no stone?” (71), she asks Max, who has insisted on being cremated. Yet in recognizing how she participates in much the same objectification as Max, insofar as she has chosen to write, Caroline casts doubt on art: “Writing too can keep the world at a distance. One uses ‘one’ instead of ‘I.’ [. . .] One turns flesh too often into words on a page” (16). She thereafter acknowledges the failure of displacing the world into words. A brief chapter titled “Chaos” begins “Despite my penchant for

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order. This is the world. We name it. And what good does it do? We arrange it on a page.” And she answers her own question: “You were here and now you’re gone. You were well and now you’re sick” (138). Caroline summarizes her despair for her interlocutor, Max: “I am sick of myself trying to give shape to all this sorrow, all this rage, all this loss—and failing” (148). Although Caroline’s declaration of failure appears near the middle of the novel, a position that might imply a forthcoming narrative reversal, such reversal as Maso accomplishes is compromised by the principles she overtly rejects. In a late section titled “The Last Dream on Earth,” Caroline imagines a complete family reunion. In her dream, “we are all there” (227), her father, her mother, and her brothers, along with her dying friend Steven, together harmoniously in a “womblike place” (228), discussing the restoration of a painting of Jesus’s face brought before them by her brother David, an art restorer. Countering Max’s skepticism about the act of restoration, Steven pronounces Caroline’s wish fulfillment in an allegorical judgment: “ ‘Yes, a full recovery is possible [. . .] What we’ll see there most likely is a good man. [. . .] But only a man’ ” (229). Unlike for Simpson’s Mayan, “only a man” for Maso may bespeak reconciliation and even forgiveness. But the mode of her telling, however beautiful and moving, revives a rather hoary trope. Caroline concludes the section, “I’m still hoping we might rise. Or maybe, just perhaps, holding hands here through this final fiction, we’ve already risen” (229). Maso thus lyrically deploys the trope of transcendence—a conventional narrative shape that one can trace back to Dante and the Christian fathers. Even though Maso acknowledges this fantasy as a “final fiction,” then, its working-through of loss by recourse to the consolations of the Father’s ideology might seem to undermine her commitment to what Robin Silbergleid calls forms of “anti-narrative” that use “aggressive formal and rhetorical strategies to plot against [. . .] traditional narrative’s patriarchal control” (332).12 The appeal to sentiment and spiritual uplift as an escape from loss would seem very traditional indeed. Similarly, insofar as Maso’s narrative structure insists on consistent formal fragmentation, it also does not seem able to resist a final coherence that brings it back in line, at least to some degree, within the patriarchal paradigm of “traditional fiction” with its “unequivocal truths”—which for a long time have also included the possibilities of ambiguity and indeterminacy. In Caroline’s dream, Max says of the damaged work of art that “ ‘One must integrate each fragment once it has been cleaned with the fragments next to it, fitting the pieces together’ ” (228). Maso here gives the father’s voice the power to prescribe the appropriate means of repair—much like the move from melancholy to mourning. That placing of fragments together, by the father’s fiat, is much of the labor that Maso’s multidimensional narrative both accomplishes and asks of its reader. This resolution occurs on the levels of both narration and image. In one of the final chapters, Caroline dines with Steven, for a time in remission

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from AIDS, and, under the watchful eye of Max’s emanation, expresses her love and constancy for her friend, realizing that this “is as perfect a moment on earth as I can expect” (238). The chapter gathers together some of the novel’s motifs, such as the stars, Halley’s Comet, and the line “I saw the figure 5 in gold,” quoted from a William Carlos Williams poem and later painted by Charles Demuth. Maso intermingles these references with visual images that likewise echo what we have seen before. Significantly, according to the narrative logic of sequence, Maso concludes with a pair of transcendent images: a Matisse drawing, Virgin and Child on Starry Background, and Red Dawn, a stark graphic by Gary Falk, depicting a Pegasus figure leaping from a figure in a bed toward a constellation. These are, as the subhead for the chapter suggests, “Hieroglyphs of Hope” (236). Even though Maso juxtaposes to this a very brief chapter carrying the bleak news that the “Giotto probe” has revealed the nucleus of Halley’s comet to be “ ‘absolutely black’ ” (241)—a reminder of the abyss of death, the unknown that art can only “probe”—she immediately follows it with the final fictive chapter, “What the Light Looks Like.” The title alludes to a game that Max, artist and art historian, plays with Caroline requiring her to describe what the light looks like in various scenes; the phrase recurs throughout the novel. Addressed to Max at first, this penultimate chapter’s position within the diegetic levels grows indistinct, as the “I” may be addressing any of the lost men, Steven or Max or Gary. That is, the narrative levels interpenetrate; the dialogical positions collapse in on themselves. Figuratively, what the light looks like at last is visionary coherence, where the repetitions of acting-out have become working-through: “What the light looks like is the entire galaxy, you unattached, moving through space, [. . .] more perfect than any planet, than any star” (242). Maso thus enacts a conventional trajectory of mourning, as Stirling describes: “from realization to hope to despair to acceptance” (610). The narrative thus regains the lost object of desire even as it escapes, becoming a figure of transcendent beauty, a Pegasus—the light that enables the act of seeing. When Maso concludes the novel with the autobiographical “Author’s Note,” she tells the story of her final visits to the dying Gary, whose bodily functions are shutting down in turn—his hand, his hearing, his sight. Throughout The Art Lover, she has emphasized the importance of seeing and its dependence on light, and she chooses to conclude with this familiar metaphor, with all its history of spiritual and epistemological meanings. When Gary, gone completely blind, exclaims that “ ‘It’s the most miraculous thing [. . .] I can see again!’ ” Carole, in the final sentence of the novel, “realized that both his eyes were darkened now with his wonderful and perfect sight” (Art Lover 243). It is a stirring claim, suggesting repair of the body’s limits. But it also relies on the paradigm of transcendence. In accepting the resolution of metaphysical contradiction so as not to be left in the black hole of grief or irony, Maso succumbs to the illusory contortions of

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metaphorical language, which allows darkness to be equivalent to light— and to be displaced by it. In this way, Maso seems to skate cleanly past the wisdom she gives to Max earlier in the novel, when he tells Caroline that “ ‘We are wounded, symbol-making creatures’ ” (188). Max is skeptical, suggesting that our symbol-making is a self-conscious stay against confusion that conceals rather than heals our wounds. Maso’s symbol-making, however, in seeming to do exactly that for her various narrating selves—to heal the wound of loss in the language of art—summons up Žižek’s account of the paradox of fantasy. Fantasy, he argues, answers “to the unbearable enigma of the desire of the Other, of the lack in the Other; but it is at the same time fantasy itself which [. . .] provides the co-ordinates of our desire—which constructs the frame enabling us to desire something” (118). And so the desire that creates symbol circles in on itself, betrays its source only in fantasy and not in the possibility of regaining the real of the other. Perhaps this is why the novel’s overdetermined title is so apt. The art lover is Max, who is a displaced Gary Falk, both of them artists; it is Candace, who takes up visual art to master her loss, and Caroline, who tries to fill her emptiness with the art of words, and Carole, who embraces, questions, and stretches art to find its many voices but finally and foremost to confess her love of its makers, forms, and capacity to bring fragments together. And it is the reader, whose narrative desire—finally perhaps as narcissistic as that of the other art lovers depicted here—is to seek representation, consolation, coherence, and closure, when the multiple narrations and narrators coalesce into a forgiving, poetic “I” who speaks us in the text. Maso thus finally achieves what LaCapra summarizes as the “critical distance, change, resumption of social life, ethical responsibility, and renewal” signifying mourning. That is to say, in composing this multilayered narrative to arrive effectively at some solace, some univocal statement of belief, she accepts that the artist must achieve distance on her object. Like it or not, the father’s word finally stands.

5 Searching Sons, the Word, and the Flesh

As for Simpson, Tyler, and Irving, the trauma of lost origins underwrites the exploration of unstable selfhood in the fictions of both Paul Auster and Jonathan Lethem. Whereas Chapter 4 explores daughters suffering the condition of loss because of a father’s death or abandonment, as imagined by female writers, the present chapter focuses specifically on the work of male writers exploring the anguish or confusion of sons. Auster and Lethem conjure sons who experience their place in the world as unmoored because they either never knew their biological fathers or have lost surrogate fathers. For each writer, the manner in which the absent father constructs the son’s subjectivity is both mediated by and demonstrated in the son’s relationship as a subject to language, a relationship typically inextricable from his embodiment. Where Simpson and Maso centrally explore bodies and desire in relation to feeling, Auster and Lethem put the matter of language—and language as matter—at the center of the sons’ pursuit of desires. Both writers explore the individual’s relationship to language in terms reminiscent of the Lacanian model for the development of symbolization, according to which the self becomes a subject, recognizable but also constrained within the social world, by speaking the father’s language. Auster’s angle on this paradigm highlights the metaphysical and psychological problems that occur when either a son’s acquiescence to the ideological authority of the patriarch or his failure to uncover that authority effectively disembodies him, wounding his subjectivity by driving a wedge between his material self and his consciousness, unless he finds a way to knit body and self, subject and object, back together. Lethem takes a complementary angle in exploring how a son’s subjectivity is constituted only when indivisible bodily and mental compulsions find transgressive expression in the world. For both writers, however, the subject’s presence hinges on embodiment as the ground of language, being, and meaning. To the degree that the father figure—biological or surrogate—is the most singular influence on the son by the fact of his material presence or absence, the son’s own embodiment 115

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becomes central to the narrative’s inquiry into subjectivity. The writers clear the path to such an inquiry by deploying recognizable subgenres of fiction— detective fiction, hard-boiled, in Lethem’s case, and metaphysical, in Auster’s, as well as the road or picaresque novel. By way of the genres, Auster and Lethem evoke but also contest the narrative shape of the quest and related conventions, formal, epistemological, and characterological: that clues and codes exist to be interpreted, that bodies have meaningful identities, that questions will have answers, that travelers will arrive at destinations, that stories will arrive at closure, and that perhaps someone, maybe even a father, might against all odds possess the power of understanding.

Paul Auster: The Body in/and the Text— City of Glass, Moon Palace, Mr. Vertigo Critics have often classified Paul Auster according to the vocabulary of postmodernism, especially on the strength of his first novels, published together in 1990 as The New York Trilogy. Auster’s early work trades in the currency of a metaphysics and linguistic self-consciousness associated with the postmodern condition. About the trilogy’s first novel, City of Glass (1985), for instance, William Lavender asserts that the novel “is a deconstruction” (220). Regarding the trilogy as a whole, Alison Russell argues that logocentrism is the “‘crime’ that Auster investigates” (72); Steven Alford notes that the trilogy “is a meditation on the problematic of self-identity, in which a ‘textual’ sense of the self undermines our commonsense, essentialist notions of selfhood” (“Spaced-Out” 615); and William Little defines the desire driving the narratives as a search for nothing: “Appropriating, only to subvert, the teleological notion of progress toward ‘a desired end,’ each tale entails a search for meaning—a tail job—marked by repeated bewilderment, perpetual crossing (out) and retracing, interminable wandering” (133–34). Bernd Herzogenrath’s brilliantly detailed Lacanian reading likewise finds in the later Moon Palace (1989) an instance of the “decentered subject”: “The subject is [. . .] split in the sense that the signifier prevents the subject from any unequivocal relation to a signified, to other objects and subjects and, in extension, to ‘itself’” (131). Yet much of Auster’s fiction struggles with the contradiction between a poststructuralist epistemology of reality as constructed by the subject through language and the acknowledgment of materiality and the real of referential history.1 Auster draws toward this contradiction by installing the problem of absence in the novels—specifically the repeated absence of father figures. The novels thereby promote the necessity of calling upon the body to signify presence—whether the father’s body, the son’s, or both. The motif of the father’s absence is apparent as early as City of Glass and becomes

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increasingly apparent in Moon Palace and Mr. Vertigo (1994). To whatever degree Auster’s male protagonists subscribe to the view that words mediate between things and consciousness, that the “real” is an artifact of language, his fiction drives them nevertheless toward a confrontation with and even commitment to embodiment. The body must become aware that it is a body to be “real.” Specifically, the narrative configurations according to which Auster’s fictive sons long to fill the lack of a father insist on a nonlinguistic presence, an “out there” that must be narrated so as to free the subject. Subjectivity, that is, requires a history, a story of the body in time. By posing Auster’s most frequently studied novel, City of Glass, against Moon Palace and the relatively unexamined Mr. Vertigo, the chapter explores how his representations of the competing epistemologies of the word and the flesh inflect the father/son dyad as it crosses genre, intellectual modes, and American geographies. The existential, metafictional, ahistorical, claustrophobically urban detective novel City of Glass presents a son’s exile from self and body as inextricable from the ideological authority of patriarchal language denied him by a father’s brutality and detachment. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the orphaned protagonist of the comic romance Mr. Vertigo sets off on a picaresque journey across twentiethcentury America, in a historical allegory enabled by magical realism. For all his mobility and apparent control of his body, however, the boy finds that his embodiment is confined and signified within an identity inscribed by a surrogate father. Hovering between these two novels is Moon Palace, which begins when another orphaned son attempts to escape his body by way of the sign within a self-imposed urban confinement, only to engage in a quest across the American continent that confronts him with the real of the body as figured in his newly discovered father and grandfather. In each case, Auster’s view of how the father constructs the son’s identity by his presence or absence is rooted at once in a metaphysics of the sign as the mark of conscious life and in the materiality of a bodily self. In other words, Auster’s grappling with the mind/body problem tracing back to Descartes’s cogito takes a particular form. The divorce of embodiment from a language that evidences and constructs consciousness dooms a subject to a twilight existence. In Auster’s narratives, the condition of such disjunction characteristically results from the subject’s relationship to a father’s absence. One frame of reference for Auster’s preoccupations may be found in his memoir, The Invention of Solitude (1982), introduced in Chapter 1. Auster focuses on his own father’s absences, a source for the figures of exile and existential silence that appear in many of his novels. Motivated by the death of Auster’s father, Sam, the book probes the indifference and metaphysical lack of the man who “left no traces” (Auster, Solitude 6) and whose “inner life” seems to have “eluded even him” (20). Auster engages passionately, if with knowing irony, in the task of remembering this “invisible man” (7). He identifies the act of writing as his only stopgap against the final disappearance

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of a paternal source of selfhood and meaning: “No matter how useless these words [. . .], they have nevertheless stood between me and a silence that continues to terrify me. When I step into this silence, it will mean that my father has vanished forever” (65). Auster unearths the story of Sam Auster’s violent loss of his own father, which Sam reenacts in his paternal behavior, as if demonstrating Freud’s repetition compulsion all too literally. In recounting Paul’s subsequent engagement of surrogate intellectual fathers and devoted efforts toward a compensatory fatherhood with his young son, the memoir vouches, as a kind of post-traumatic document, for a generational imperative in fathering—the urgent need for a psychological and ethical presence. That imperative invokes an additional frame of reference deriving from Auster’s biography as a secular Jew. Although his fiction readily challenges an intentional “Jewish” reading—it is not “about” being Jewish in any recognizable way—it may nevertheless be seen as indebted to some principles of Jewish culture. In particular, the fiction rests upon a covenantal father/son relationship that requires reciprocity: just as a patrimony is due to a Jewish son, the son owes the father a debt of respect, memory, and even, perhaps, his identity. Indeed, in bearing witness in The Invention of Solitude to his own father, Auster’s dedication recalls the moral compulsion of the postHolocaust Jewish imagination and conscience; the book’s final word, a command, is “Remember” (172). The father/son relationship begins with God’s covenant with Abraham to be the father of the Jews. It engraves the patriarchal configuration of father and son as the ground of all claims to justice, law, ethical behavior, and community and as the figurative source for the image and practice of familial identities. Such is the father’s power even within Auster’s modern, secularized imagination. Auster’s notion of this covenantal relationship is overdetermined, however. The ancient genealogical bonds are overlaid with a symbolic, psychoanalytic understanding of the social contract into which fathers enter when they have sons. Generally, the paternal function is to protect the child and inscribe his identity, perpetuating the generations—in Jewish terms, to make the son a member of the tribe, so to speak, and not only according to the ritual mark of circumcision. On the Lacanian model, the father disciplines the child, instilling the law that inserts him into the social order by way of the symbolic system of language. A Jewish modulation of the role appears in Lawrence Fuchs’s argument that from the early-modern period European Jews defined the patriarchal model uniquely: fathers are duty-bound to nurture children as well as to teach and discipline them (75).2 The austerity of the Lacanian patriarchal role, to regulate sons’ entry into the society, is thus joined in Auster’s imagination to the more supportive dynastic literacy passed from fathers to sons according to the tradition of Talmudic learning. This mixed model for fathers and sons depends on a normative family structure; City of Glass, however, does not pretend to depict a normative

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nuclear family. Still, it captures much of the anxiety and even violence possible within a modern patriarchal relationship, showing how, in order to condition the son into the realm of the Symbolic, a father has not only abandoned the role of nurturance but also replaced it with the absolute authority of the Lacanian patriarch over both language and the son’s body. Because so much excellent critical work has appeared regarding Auster’s multidimensional exploration of a poststructuralist epistemology of language in his characters’ relations to their subjectivity, as well as regarding his metafictional experiments with narrative form, this chapter will not rehearse those arguments.3 Suffice it to point to a single example from the end of City of Glass, when the protagonist, Daniel Quinn, writes himself into nonexistence. Quinn has served as the focalized third-person perspective for the narrator for the entire novel, up until the narrator reveals himself as a homodiegetic speaking “I” on the novel’s final two pages. Quinn concludes a futile quest by locking himself in a room, his appetite diminishing to nothing, his sense of the passage of time fading into timelessness. All he does in the end is write feverishly—what, exactly, Auster does not reveal—until he comes to the end of the red notebook he has been filling. Its last sentence reads, “ ‘What will happen when there are no more pages in the red notebook?’ ” (Auster, City of Glass 157), and the answer is silence, an unfillable gap of space in the text, followed only by the narrator’s bewilderment and remorse that he had not intervened to prevent Quinn’s demise. When Quinn disappears as he writes the end of the story we are reading, that is, the novel’s closure exemplifies the postmodern principle that the “real” is a linguistic construction—and only that. My argument about Auster starts at this point by emphasizing the father’s power over both the son’s language and body. In City of Glass, Auster frames the story of fathers and sons within doubled, traumatic father/son relationships, beginning with the announcement in the novel’s second paragraph that Quinn “had once been a father, and that both his wife and son were now dead” (3). The narrator never describes the event of the death, nor Quinn’s grief as such, but immediately characterizes a man who “aimlessly” walks the streets of New York with the “feeling of being lost [. . .] not only in the city, but within himself,” following “the drift of his body” such that he feels on his “best walks” that “he was nowhere” (4). Quinn seems stunned into the melancholic stasis of a trauma from which he has not recovered. That Auster does not narrate Quinn’s overt consciousness of loss implies that he has hysterically repressed the memory of his family. He recalls his son only as a fleeting “physical sensation, an imprint of the past that had been left in his body” of holding his child in his arms (6). Quinn experiences a parallel erasure of himself: “He had [. . .] long ago stopped thinking of himself as real” (10). Unspoken is the apparent causal connection: having failed in his duties as a father to be present at a crucial juncture to control his son’s fate, his lack of presence dooms his son, and

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thereby himself, to a final absence as body, subject, and speaker. Indeed, after the opening of the novel, the son is largely forgotten within the text, an initial gap that is never filled and rarely named again. The story that comes to dominate—and destroy—Quinn’s life contrarily offers an image of a father who is nothing but controlling of his son’s body and subjectivity—who, in fact, erases his son’s being by his ideological obsession with the primacy of language. Auster deploys the genre of the detective novel to engage Quinn in a quest for the father of Peter Stillman, Jr., who, the son believes, wishes to kill him. Quinn begins to feel for Stillman, Jr., the concern of a displaced father figure: “He knew,” the narrator notes, “he could not bring his own son back to life, but at least he could prevent another from dying” (41). One way of looking at Quinn’s obsession with the brutal story of Stillman Junior and Senior, however, is to see his quest as a fantasy displacing his sense of guilt and betrayal regarding his lost son—a fantasy he narrates in order to uncover, and thereby punish himself for, any acquiescence to a patriarchal model of fatherhood that might have interfered with his son’s survival. For the fantasy includes the traumatic disappearance of a son, as it were, into thin air, when Stillman, Jr., vanishes without a trace from his apartment, much as Quinn’s son seems to have died without a narrative to remember him—and much as Quinn himself will vanish from the room— and text—he last occupies. Auster emphasizes the conflation of the two sons in Quinn’s perceptions, the lost son in the present a projection of the lost son in the past. Immediately after Quinn expresses the wish to prevent “another” son from dying, he thinks of “the little coffin that held his son’s body” as an analogue to Peter, Jr.’s condition—“That was isolation [. . .] That was silence”—and then concludes the chapter with the coincidence that may explain his initial stake in the Stillman story: “It did not help, perhaps, that his son’s name had also been Peter” (42). That Quinn’s traumatic preoccupation with his lost son may be seen to motivate a hallucinatory narrative that increasingly strays from realism into exaggeration, coincidence, and the final implausibility according to which Quinn’s body disappears altogether from a locked room—to partake, that is, of the illogic of fantasy—is suggested at the inception of the narrative. When Quinn first enters the Stillman apartment, the narrator notes that “he could feel himself going blank, as if his brain had suddenly shut off,” in a dreamlike evacuation of subjectivity. The effect of a consciousness erased from the real world is amplified when time, too, seems to depart from its linear regularity in Quinn’s perceptions, so that he cannot tell whether “no more than a minute or two” or hours have elapsed (16). Auster seems to seal the cause-effect logic of Quinn’s dislocation in time and presence when he then meets Peter, Jr.: “Uncannily, in that first moment, Quinn thought of his own dead son” (17). Auster’s next sentence, however, initiates the paradox of Quinn’s paternal recall: “just as suddenly as the thought had appeared, it vanished” (17).

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Perhaps it is fitting that the cruel experiment Stillman, Sr., conducts on his son involves erasure of genealogical memory, insofar as we are linked to our forefathers through a shared language. Stillman, Sr.’s insane plan is to raise his son in a tiny room, in dark, wordless captivity, like the “wild boy of Aveyron” (40). Stillman aims for Peter, Jr., to invent a universal new language, innocent of difference, in America as “a second Garden of Eden” (50), so as to restore human history to a prelapsarian world of a singular tongue of non-arbitrary signs, like that spoken before God took umbrage at the Tower of Babel—an archaic image that explicitly preoccupies both the elder Stillman and Quinn. Stillman, Sr., is maddened by his perception that language is fallen (52), signifiers divorced from signifieds, perversely insisting that language and what it names should partake of a transcendent unity of the real. In committing himself wholly to the realm of signs, Stillman, Sr., destroys his son’s chance to exist as an other on a material plane. Auster imagines the father/son covenant as if through the looking-glass: the father determines that the son must not so much perpetuate the legacy he offers as throw it over. In supreme arrogance, Stillman abuses his son physically and emotionally, both availing himself sacrilegiously of the absolute power of God the Father to create his son from the nothingness of flesh and silence and renouncing the earthly father’s covenant to continue the lineage of family and culture. He engages in a monstrous act of paternal forgetting, even as, paradoxically, he quixotically seeks to repair the dualisms installed by the ancient patriarchs and reaffirmed within the post-Enlightenment commitment to disembodied rationalism. Stillman, Sr., does not so much represent a patriarchal genealogy as a Father constituted as monstrous ouroboros. The result is an irretrievably damaged son who seems only marginally human—and marginally alive. The son disciplined beyond language lives also beyond a body. Peter Stillman, Jr., appears in the narrative first as a disembodied voice on the telephone, “at once mechanical and filled with feeling,” indeterminately gendered (7). Quinn’s impression of Peter’s disembodiment is nearly literal, as his body “acted almost exactly as the voice had: machine-like, fitful, [. . .] rigid and yet expressive,” like a “marionette trying to walk without strings” (17). Deprived of human touch, companionship, and communication, dressed wholly in white to match his pallor and physical near-transparency, Peter, Jr., effectively has no body; Quinn on first meeting senses him as “invisible” (18).4 Stillman, Jr., who conveys his self-estrangement by referring to himself in the third person, has been excluded not only from human language and corporeality, but also, specifically, from the identity conferred on a son by his father’s name, leaving him in a position of incoherent subjectivity, with little beyond negation and performance: “ ‘My name is Peter Stillman. That is not my real name,’ ” he says; “ ‘they taught me how to be Peter Stillman’ ” (20). He has been placed only at a remove within the sphere of the Name-of-the-Father, barred from

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entry into the Symbolic of the cultural order in which he nominally exists, erased bodily and hovering at the fringes of the material world. On the premise that the story Quinn tells of the Stillmans is his fantasy projection of his own trauma, his failure to protect his son appears as a profound failure of patrimony. He has not given “Peter” a determinate last name or selfhood, “Still-man” being tantamount to death. He has no son to carry on his name, and his quest for meaning and origins comes up as empty as the room from which he, at the novel’s end, mysteriously vanishes. Quinn judges, from his own story and the story that he constructs for Peter out of his father fantasy, that he has betrayed his covenantal obligations. If City of Glass takes its respective players over the brink into the irrevocable emptiness of signs, Moon Palace inquires differently into the contradictions among competing perspectives—a poststructuralist epistemology as opposed to a commitment to materiality and referentiality—with a rather different result. By first subscribing to the postmodern condition and then by deconstructing certain oppositions—such as the subject and object, the “I” and the body—Moon Palace paradoxically commits itself, however provisionally, to presence and the referential word. The novel concludes that to write fundamentally presumes the possibility of knowing the world of things in some measure distinct from the perceiving subject. Moon Palace does so by engaging its orphaned protagonist on a quest that uncovers a genealogy for him—not only a father but also a grandfather—in contexts that insist on embodied selfhood. Indeed, of the three novels by Auster addressed in this chapter, Moon Palace is the most thoroughly saturated with the desire for recovering a lost paternal lineage, attending also fervently to the fact of, and need for, embodiment. In Moon Palace, Auster organizes the story of the body in time—like Irving, as I argued in Chapter 2—in accordance with the repetition compulsion, the psychoanalytic pattern that theorists of trauma generally agree structures the narratives of the traumatized.5 The pattern of repetition is likewise a foundational structure of fictional narrative. Freud’s “masterplot” (96), as Peter Brooks has it, organizes textual events according to the repetition compulsion; repetitions “[confound] the movement forward to the end with a movement back to origins, [. . .] offering the pleasurable possibility (or illusion) of ‘meaning’ ” (108). As in City of Glass and The Invention of Solitude, Auster quite literally focuses on the “movement back to origins,” the genealogical quest at the heart of Western narrative since Oedipus Rex. Hence the mirroring of plots: Marco Stanley Fogg, the central figure, is unknowingly driven by the mystery of his father, Solomon Barber, who seeks knowledge of his own, Julian Barber, alias Thomas Effing. Indeed, like Oedipus, Fogg stumbles all unwittingly into both manifestations of his paternal lineage at metaphorical crossroads in his life. The textual unconscious, as it were, of Moon Palace runs parallel to Fogg’s unconscious as its primary narrator in disclosing the suppressed secret of Marco’s origins,

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as he recognizes only belatedly: “For twenty-four years, I had lived with an unanswerable question, and little by little I had come to embrace that enigma as the central fact about myself” (Auster, Moon Palace 295). The enigma initiating the novel’s plotting is primarily the absence of the father after Fogg’s conception, and—in another plot repetition—the loss of his surrogate father, Uncle Victor. Fogg, who never knew his father, is haunted by the fog over his own origins and contrarily seeks both to know and not to know—a compulsion as fundamental to the logic of Auster’s narrative, concealing and revealing its secrets, as it is to Fogg’s psychology, as well as to its oedipal intertext. Only once he encounters the problem of absence as figured in the body—his own and others’—does he begin to seek knowledge. During his time at Columbia University in the novel’s early episodes, Marco displays emotional detachment and a virtual disembodiment, apparent in his calmly disengaged narrative voice and his willingness to starve himself to death. Complacent about his rootlessness, he is blind to clues about his identity; he is a poor reader of his own narrative until he discovers that the mystery of his origins “was what defined me,” and that he had clung “to my own darkness [. . .] as a source of knowledge and selfrespect, trusting in it as an ontological necessity” (295). In the opening pages, Fogg announces his central void, in the terms that foreshadow his subsequent history: he shifts from aspiring to displace his selfhood into signification to committing himself to the real of the body in time. His rhetoric identifies Auster’s interest in exploring through Fogg the primary modes of representation: language and image. Fogg’s mother was killed by a bus when he was eleven, and, he says, “[t]here was never any father in the picture” (3; italics added). Fogg has no pictures of his mother; concerning his father, “all was a blank,” his mother refusing to talk about the matter: “There was no evidence of him anywhere in the house. Not one photograph, not even a name” (4; italics added). Fogg registers an empirical imperative in the language of visual and verbal representation. He lacks proof of his genealogy in the image, the record of a physical presence, and also in the word, the name that links the subject to past and future and confirms a social presence. What is missing is the body, the object that, by virtue of its name and its material presence, enables a subject. Although Fogg’s parents constitute his central loss, his focus at the beginning of the narrative is his Uncle Victor. Fogg thus details the fatherson configuration that recurs in the structural mise en abyme that plots Moon Palace. When Fogg describes Victor’s “physical lapses”—stumbling, forgetfulness—three years before his death, he notes that Victor’s “body was speaking to me in code, and I did not have the wherewithal or the sense to crack it” (11). Fogg expresses his desire to dematerialize, to repress the knowledge of the body, by displacing his failure into the language of signs, the “code” that he cannot decipher. The deceased Victor’s gifts to Fogg include a tweed suit and a collection of books. His patrimony thus embraces

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the two modes of reference, the material that literally enfolds the body, and the word—the code that Fogg thereafter deploys to memorialize his lost father figure. Fogg attempts to maintain Victor’s presence, to “stay in spiritual contact” (15) with the surrogate father, by wearing his suit as a “protective membrane”: “there were times when I imagined the suit was actually holding me together, that if I did not wear it my body would fly apart” (15), that “the suit was the badge of my identity” (16). Fogg inhabits this visible sign as a material surrogate of Victor, himself the substitute for the missing biological father. Fogg replaces his bodily integrity with a metonymy. He cannot “wear” his own identity, undisguised, as a social being; but in embracing a simulacrum of selfhood, he loses the capacity for the body to mean himself. In seeking the consolations of the sign, that is, Fogg does not so much resurrect Victor as elide Victor’s absence and inscribe his own. In donning the suit, he accepts the emptiness of the paternal signifier—and of his own subjectivity. Fogg’s futile embrace of verbal signification also inheres in his use of Victor’s books. When, as a student, his money to feed and house himself begins to run out, he refuses to take action, his “nihilism raised to the level of an aesthetic proposition” (21). Fogg begins to consume Victor’s books, both literally and figuratively, hoping to “vanish,” to become “a flotsam of flesh and bone” (21), the disappearance of the books monitoring “the progress of my own dismemberment” (24)—much as Quinn’s filling of the red notebook charts his own disappearance. Fogg uses the boxes of Victor’s books to furnish his apartment; he disassembles his “furniture” randomly, reading the books, then selling them for money to live on. He reads mechanically to the end of each book and moves on, educating himself arbitrarily, so as to “mourn” Victor (21) and “[discharge] my debt to him” (23). Fogg wishes to turn his reading into an act at once of remembering the lost father and of existential self-erasure through consumption of signifiers; but even the discourse of reading—he “devour[s]” the books “hungrily” (22)—betrays him by referring to mental processes bodily. Yet Fogg refuses to pursue the referentiality of the word, consuming the books in order to disappear rather than to find himself in time. Virtually penniless, Fogg begins to starve himself in earnest, “trying to separate myself from my body, taking the long road around my dilemma by pretending it did not exist” (29). He demonstrates the impulse Maud Ellmann ascribes generally to those who choose hunger in “a struggle to release the body from all contexts, even from the context of embodiment itself. It [self-starvation] de-historicizes, de-socializes, and even de-genders the body” (14). Fogg’s ascetic conception of his hunger allows that he can enter a “strange half-world” (Moon Palace 31) of mental operations detached by a fascination with signs from the brute reality of objects, a half-world that seems thereby to be governed by “secret correspondences” (33). Signs

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in the “half-world” seem to register meaningfulness around him, when the fullness of the world might instead reveal it as contingent and meaningless. In consciously pursuing asceticism as an end in itself, Fogg betrays an inverse desire not to reckon with knowledge of his own lack. Fogg’s retrospective narration allows him to interpret for the reader the meaning of the episode of self-starvation well before he unfolds it fully. He reports “what I finally discovered for myself: the mind cannot win over matter, for once the mind is asked to do too much, it quickly shows itself to be matter as well” (29–30). Cast out of his apartment, sleeping in Central Park, and picking food out of the park’s waste containers, Fogg grasps at the illusion that the park is another half-world, a “home” distinct from the streets of New York. The park, he thinks, enables him not “to carry around this burden of self-consciousness. It gave me a threshold, a boundary, a way to distinguish between the inside and the outside. [. . .] a chance to return to my inner life” (58). Yet he encounters the material pressures of both the inside and the outside. Outside is “the here and now, the tangible, the vast sensorium pressing down on my skin” (63)—where the senses inescapably return him to the body. Inside is the hunger itself, insistently physical, framing the mental activity he had hoped to lift free into the transcendent world of signs; he “stagger[s] along an impossible tightrope of consciousness. For how do you not think about your hunger when you are always hungry?” (59). How, that is, can you not think about your body when you are inevitably embodied? Fogg pursues hunger as a metaphysical condition, a balancing act of desire and denial, but he encounters it as irrevocably corporeal. Where he desires negation, awareness without existence, he finds abjection. Consciousness of the abject confirms the inextricability of the subject from the body and the objective world. The abject, as Julia Kristeva has it, troubles the “fundamental opposition [. . .] between I and Other or [. . .] between Inside and Outside” (7), erasing the border between subject and object by showing the incorporation of the object—food, waste, the corpseto-be—into the subject. The “I” is the body. Fogg’s act of self-starvation depends upon a stable opposition between subject and object, an “inner” self as separable from the “outer” body.6 But the body refuses this discursively legitimized dream of separation, and consciousness must follow. Hunger teaches Fogg to return to his early insight that “the inner and the outer could not be separated except by doing great damage to the truth” (Moon Palace 25).7 Auster organizes the subsequent narrative of Moon Palace around Fogg’s repeated encounters with the paradoxical inextricability of inner and outer, sign and body, in tandem with his encounters with the father figures, in the flesh and in story, that fill in the missing pieces of his own genealogy. The repetition compulsion organizes Auster’s narrative: Fogg confronts the abject body, which is, in the novel, the real, only to refuse the knowledge it

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offers. Each time, Auster exposes the error of relying upon a stable border between the subject and object, the “I” and the body. For example, when Fogg goes to work for the wheelchair-bound Thomas Effing, he finds in his employer the very picture of the abject body. Frail, trembling, damaged, implicitly castrated, “his body slumped [. . .] like some minuscule broken bird” (99), Effing consumes his food “in a mad free-for-all of slobbering grunts and spills” (112) and of “cacophonous spoonfuls” (113), in grotesque deformation of the desires associated with appetite. Effing’s visual representation of taboo bodily waste seems to erase the boundary that would protect his subjectivity, and his abject position is heightened by his apparent proximity to death. His domination by the object-ness of his body is also underscored by his blindness. Conventionally, sight is freighted with the meanings of the human; physical sight, by way of the metaphor of vision, connotes interpretive understanding or intellect and hence signifies inner being. The sightless Effing is instead reduced to the discursively more “primitive” senses of sound, smell, and taste, which draw him toward the realm of the abject. He thus hires Fogg to be his eyes, to describe the world to him, supplying him with surrogate visual perception to restore him to the “human.” Effing tutors Fogg in seeing, in learning to describe the material world with precision and economy, attending to its signifiers in order to see as much what is not being represented as what is. Auster implies through Effing’s instruction that signs are referential—as if Effing, the deformed, estranged father, can heal the breach Stillman, Sr., failed to mend. In a feat of narrative coincidence that strains credulity but is in keeping with Auster’s view of the metaphysics of chance, that is, Effing turns out to be Fogg’s grandfather—one of the mysteries lying at the young man’s origins.8 Effing thus is responsible, as if genetically, for beginning the cycle of repetition expressed in Fogg’s attempts at self-erasure in New York. When Effing as a young man under his original name of Julian Barber treks west only to lose his friend, Byrne, to a violent end, he assigns himself an extraordinary penance out of his guilt and anguish: to abandon his identity to the utter solitude of the desert. He does not starve, his desert cave miraculously stocked with the previous resident’s food, but he commits himself to a metaphoric starvation in a landscape that exteriorizes his internal state. Like Fogg on the streets of New York, Effing cedes his subjectivity to the objective things of the material world, exaggerated in a landscape of extremes. The desert is a “boneyard of oblivion,” a “dead world,” a “giant cemetery” (154) marked by silence: “eventually it just stops being there. There’s no world, no land, no nothing. [. . .] in the end, it’s all a figment. The only place you exist is in your head” (156). If the visible world, in all its coarse and vital materiality, appears only as if unmediated, the image, existing only “in your head,” underscores that the subject is not divisible from the object of perception.

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Perhaps the novel’s best example of Auster’s central paradox of subject/ object, sign/thing, word/flesh appears with respect to the verbal and visual sign umbrella. Startlingly, Auster uses the same example in City of Glass when Stillman, Sr., explains to Quinn the problem of a broken language that he hopes to fix. Stillman asks, “ ‘What happens when a thing no longer performs its function? Is it still the thing, or has it become something else? When you rip the cloth off the umbrella, is the umbrella still an umbrella?’ ” He argues that the “imprecise,” “false” language of naming things, the gap between signifier and signified, “is a serious error, the source of all our troubles”; that “it hides the thing it is supposed to reveal” (City of Glass 93–94). Moon Palace puts Stillman’s argument into action. Strolling around the streets of New York, Fogg and Effing encounter a man carrying a broken umbrella. The evening is clear and dry, but together, the three joyfully mime a stroll in the rain under the protection of this umbrella, celebrating the potency of the subject to construct the world: “This was imagination in its purest form: the act of bringing nonexistent things to life, of persuading others to accept a world that was not really there” (Moon Palace 209).9 The umbrella, seen in its categorical rather than actual existence as a signifier of protection against the weather, offers the three men a fantasy of power over the elements. Their pantomime is a kind of physical jazz improvisation. Because the sign “umbrella” says “dryness,” the men devise a gestural riff, evoking both the absent rain and their improbable safety, in an exhilarating shared moment of invention. But the narrative very quickly undermines the deception practiced by such signification. The real, material condition of the umbrella—“the protective cloth [. . .] stripped off the armature, and with the naked spokes spread out uselessly in the air” (209)—constitutes its practical signifier, hardly making it, as Effing names it, “ ‘invincible’ ” (211). Later, in a thunderstorm protected only by the “ ‘magic umbrella’ ” (211), Effing claims to Fogg that “ ‘It’s mind over matter’ ” (213). But matter clearly triumphs, as Fogg had learned in Central Park, when Effing soon thereafter falls victim to his fatal illness. Although it is clear to Fogg that Effing has employed the useless umbrella as a ruse because he wants to die, the episode nevertheless warns against such devotion to the non-referential sign. The rain is real, and so is pneumonia; a naked umbrella cannot protect one from the elements; the objective world can neither be repudiated, re-formed, nor detached from the subject. Effing’s death-wish ironically displays his own accommodation of the real of the body. Mind, indeed, cannot transcend matter, but it may bend matter to its will. Moon Palace both confirms and develops the problematic disjunction between language and the world that Stillman, Sr., takes up as his obsession in City of Glass. In the later novel, however, Auster introduces the humane dimension that Stillman lacks. One accepts the gap, compensating for it through human connection and empathy—the affection and concern Fogg feels for Effing, the paternal surrogate revealed as an

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originary source—and not through manufacturing a new, essentially nonhuman language, at the cost of a human victim. Auster plots a similar return to the real for Solomon Barber, Effing’s lost son and Fogg’s lost father. As a young man, Barber displaces the trauma of his own fatherlessness into writing a novel, Kepler’s Blood. The title conjures the patrilineage that is the novel’s persistent subtext, and the family romance of Kepler’s Blood exposes historical abuses in the American myth of Manifest Destiny. The protagonist, Kepler, lives among the Native American Humans, and Barber weaves into his romance a fantasy of physical erasure, imagining a character with a capacity for shape-shifting to suggest the detachability of the subject from the fleshly object, the visual signifier from its signified. Barber’s fantasy of bodily transformation projects his will to escape his own body. If he cannot deny the referentiality of the sign, he must accept that his selfhood is equivalent to the grotesque body to which his guilt and desire have driven him. Barber inverts the sign of the abject offered by his unknown father, Effing. Whereas Effing represents the attenuated body, stripped down to little beyond the voice, Barber is huge, “a pandemonium of flesh heaped upon flesh,” “titanic in his obesity” (235). Fogg and Effing engage in projects of starvation and physical self-abuse designed to make the body disappear, the subject thereby to rise untrammeled by the objective state of the body. Barber, to the contrary, attempts to “free” himself by eating “his way to the brink of oblivion” (242), to lose the subject within the flesh: “The larger his body grew, the more deeply he buried himself inside it. [. . .] to shut himself off from the world, to make himself invisible in the massiveness of his own flesh” (242). Barber embodies hunger, not as Fogg does, in order to escape himself by thwarting the body, but instead to flee his history. Obsessively feeding the insatiable shell of the self, masking the inner with the outer, Barber attempts within his literal corporeality to bury his multiple losses—his father, his profession, the young woman he loved. Barber turns his body over to an uncanny parody of desire, as if he might paradoxically preserve and protect some “inner” self by embracing outward abjection. Like Fogg and Effing, therefore, Barber falsely assumes a secure opposition between inside and outside, subject and object. Yet his body looms like the return of the repressed, insisting that the outside is the inside. Like Fogg, too, in his flight from the object-ness of the self, Barber attempts to use books as a “refuge”: “By entering the words that stood before him on the page, he was able to forget his body” (240). By becoming a historian, however, he commits himself to the lost story of the past, staking his career on the referential relationship of the word to the past, to bodies in time. His acceptance of the referential word foreshadows Barber’s confrontation with the concrete reality of the body. During the climactic recognition scene with his son, Fogg, he falls into an open grave, a fall that eventually kills him and that, almost too obviously, represents a Fall into the world of mortal

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flesh. Before Barber dies, however, Auster has him, like his own imagined character, shape-shift. He loses weight until “a second Barber came up to the surface, a secret self that had been locked inside him for years” (296). A “secret self” implies a truer, essential self—a transformed body in which the “outside” more faithfully signifies the “inside.” This “secret self” enables Fogg to recognize not only Barber’s likeness to Effing, but also his own likeness to his father. That is, the sign of the body draws in line with its genealogical referents as it reinstalls and makes visible Barber’s disguised subjectivity. Fogg embarks on a westward journey in order to hold faith with his dead father, in pursuit of the landscape where Effing’s pivotal episode occurred, the chronological beginning of all the narrative repetitions. Fogg passes through the terrifying solitude, sublimity, and timelessness of the desert to discover that, with Effing’s cave now under water, his material source is forever unavailable to his perception. The point of origin of Effing’s story— the Derridean transcendental signified of the landscape that promised to make Effing, the ineffable, mean—remains absent.10 But the “act of looking” for the trace of his paternal origins, Fogg finds, is “sufficient in itself” (303)— he has upheld his previously unknown covenant with his fathers. Fogg begins to inhabit his own body in a devoted act of walking. He works his way west, “settl[ing] into the rhythm of my steps” until he reaches the Pacific Ocean. Fogg reconciles himself to the reality of embodiment as he wears out “one pair of boots after another [. . .] borne along by a growing sense of happiness” (306). The act of walking is Auster’s figure for the existence of the body in time. The self finds its own presence, recognizes itself, by becoming aware of and embracing its paradoxical embodiment and temporality. Fogg’s walking implies direction without destination; it figures repetition both intentional and indeterminate. Unlike his New York experiment, Fogg’s journey is governed by no preconception, plan, or theory: “Once I reached the end of the continent, I felt that some important question would be resolved for me. I had no idea what that question was, but the answer had already been formed in my steps.” He has unified his “self” with his body: “I had only to keep walking to know that I had left myself behind, that I was no longer the person I had once been” (306; italics added). Like Barber and Effing before him, Fogg learns through the body that inside and outside are not in stable opposition to one another. Such knowledge constitutes his patrimony, reinstating the father as the source of the son’s selfhood. Yet Auster insists on a suspended closure for Fogg, as implied in the novel’s many references to the moon. When, in New York, Fogg first sees the neon sign for Moon Palace, a Chinese restaurant, from his apartment window, the letters seem “magic,” and he notes that “the force with which those words assaulted me drowned out every practical reference and association.” The Moon Palace sign transforms his “bare and grubby room”

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into “a site of inwardness, an intersection point of strange omens and mysterious, arbitrary events” (17; italics added). As he begins his experiment in disembodiment, he revels in the sign, which seems to detach itself from the referent to urge him to seal himself off into a solipsistic play of language. Late in his experiment, however, “in the tribulations of my body” (69), Fogg hallucinates that almost all the letters disappear from the sign and he is dangling precariously from the two “o”s that remain. In his fantasy, the visible sign conjures the dangers of falling into the self-reflecting pool of language, to a narcissistic exclusion of the objective world. To live wholly under the sign of Moon Palace threatens the existence of the body. Moon Palace’s final image, then, returns to the indeterminate sign. Fogg describes a full moon, shedding maximum light in the darkness, its brightness hospitable to human perception. Though the darkness remains, the moon, a conventional figure of mutability, can still “[find] its place,” implying that the inconstant signifier is nevertheless situated within a referential world. The moon looks “as round and yellow as a burning stone” (307); Auster chooses for his simile the image of a stone, a concrete object with presence, but the real moon, insofar as it appears to human perception, remains a disk that is an artifact of reflected light.11 Auster told Mark Irwin in 1992 that he finds novel-writing “generative”: “One book seems to give birth to another” (Art of Hunger 328). If Moon Palace is an answer to the Trilogy, it may also ask the question that Mr. Vertigo tries to answer. Auster shifts from prose that keeps approaching silence, in the Trilogy and also in The Invention of Solitude, to narratives peopled with voluble, insistent voices, speakers speaking their stories and stumbling outside to encounter streets and deserts and cemeteries. Whereas Quinn, whose quest for the father fails on multiple levels, disappears into the smoke and mirrors of the word, in Moon Palace Fogg and Barber both recover their origins, in both bodies and words.12 City of Glass confronts the aching emptiness of the postlapsarian severing of father from son, signifier from signified, memory from meaningfulness, within a New York City landscape grown increasingly claustrophobic until it shrinks to an empty room. Moon Palace acts to heal the rifts, finally sending its protagonist into the openness of the road and the West, perhaps to find his “place in the darkness” (Moon Palace 307). Mr. Vertigo, in almost direct opposition to City of Glass and dilating upon the provisional resolutions of Moon Palace, moves outside the preoccupation with hermetic signs to engage with the historical American world and its vast continent. Mr. Vertigo strikes a jaunty, open-hearted tone, engaging its protagonist in a cross-country bildungsroman that quite literally represents the rise and maturation of Walter Rawley—as Walt the Wonder Boy, who learns to levitate for the enjoyment of crowds—according to the socioeconomic terms of the American Dream in the mid-twentieth century. In Mr. Vertigo there is little stumbling up against the contrariness of signification, and Walt seems,

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if anything, in possession of too stable an identity. The novel replaces the claustrophobic rooms and social conditions constraining the likes of Quinn and Fogg with rural and urban byways of the Midwest and far west of the country, demonstrating a fascination with the American scene and the movement across geographical spaces typical of the road novel. The comic tone of the picaresque adventure is attributable in part to the fact that Walt lives under the fond, if strict, tutelage of a surrogate father. Committed to the son’s future, the surrogate enacts, as Quinn and Stillman, Sr., fail to do, the role of fatherly presence and nurturer. The “father,” in this case, fulfills the patriarchal function of inserting Walt into the ideological system, not only by inducting him into the language of the Symbolic but also, significantly, by instructing how Walt is to exist as an embodied self. The trajectory of the comic romance inheres not only in the local details but also in the novel’s resolution: the child grows into a chastened but wiser adult, dedicated to the memory of the man whom Walt, the first-person narrator, always calls “master,” underscoring his patriarchal function. By reversing the conditions in City of Glass, by way of a surrogate father who strives to be present to his “son,” Mr. Vertigo reinforces the role of the father fantasy in the fulfillment of a son’s subjectivity. A Jewish subtext enters this novel, as well, by way of Walt’s surrogate patriarch. His master is Master Yehudi, a Hungarian Jew, descended from rabbis (Auster, Mr. Vertigo 22) and a devotee of Spinoza (128), who emigrated to America as a young boy. Auster plays up Yehudi’s Jewish origins when Walt, an orphan from the streets of St. Louis, first expresses antisemitic sentiments; when he later discovers a fervent love and respect for the man who takes him under his wing, it is as if he has accepted a covenant with his (Jewish) father. Auster conceals a telling joke within his choice of name for this father figure, since “Yehudi” translates from the Hebrew as “Jew.” The father is not only Jewish, but also his very performance of the role of father is profoundly rooted in Jewishness. If he is “Master Jew,” then his mastery—as teacher, as father, as sage—is ascribable to his cultural origins—is, in fact, inscribed by them. He offers an exemplary version of Jewish qualities, and his patriarchal function is inextricable from his Jewishness.13 Auster presents Master Yehudi as a comically exaggerated, potent father figure, preternaturally omniscient and omnipresent. He knows Walt’s origins before he and Walt meet—a father gassed in World War I, a mother who “turn[ed] tricks” before being shot dead by a policeman (10); he anticipates Walt’s moves before Walt knows what he will do; and he calmly, almost chillingly, asserts, “ ‘I know who you are’ ” (36). Walt, a street-smart skeptic with a Huck Finn voice, initially resists the Master’s authority and control. Whenever he thinks he has eluded the “Voodoo Man” (27), though, the Master uncannily reappears, warning, “ ‘Wherever you turn, that’s where I’m going to be. However far you run, I’ll always be waiting for you at the

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other end. Master Yehudi is everywhere, Walt, and it isn’t possible to escape him’ ” (32). Master Yehudi thus parodies the God the Father image Stillman, Sr., blasphemously impersonates—Walt notes that “He had made me in his own image”—even while he offers Walt a place, an identity, and the arcane, precious knowledge of the fathers, in keeping with his paternal duty; Walt admits that “I had learned that everything I was flowed directly from him” (57). What Walt most particularly learns from Master Yehudi is to fly. Auster tests the paternal paradigm by shifting the novel into a mode of reflexive magical realism that turns the impossibility of human levitation into a nearly plausible exercise of supreme bodily and mental discipline. The law of this father extends to such control over the corporeal self as to realize the fantasy of transcending the quotidian in space and time—in effect, to erase the boundaries between the imagination and the world through the body. In Master Yehudi, Auster constructs a figure for the desire to naturalize the marvelous, to incorporate the unreal as real by reinventing the laws of nature so as to transgress beyond reason. In this endeavor, the body is crucial. Walt learns to levitate only through a months-long, physically punishing regimen of “spiritual exercises” (53) that lead him “to places of such inwardness that I no longer remembered who I was” (52). The son’s identity, that is, is rewritten by the father-as-Master within an allegory of learning that knits the mind inescapably to the body to determine how he, quite literally, moves through physical space. Walt metaphorically enacts how a boy, especially within the Jewish tradition, learns the requirements for good living in the material and social world through concentrated booklearning and instruction. Auster yields up two startling images to convey the central notion of a covenantal bond between a father and son. Walt must endure many brutal physical tests for his “initiation” (44) into flight, during which he follows the Master’s “commands with blind obedience,” according to the “bargain” or “pact” (45) they make on first meeting that the Master will teach him to levitate. As one of these tests, the Master buries Walt alive for a period of time, in an Abrahamic gesture that also enables the “son” to pass symbolically from death to rebirth, fulfilling as well the American mythos of self-invention. As another test, Walt is required to “cut off the upper joint of [his] left pinky” (45). Auster’s reference to this act of self-mutilation seems at first only passing, buried in a list of numerous grotesque trials, but it soon emerges attached with special symbolic weight. Walt notices the Master thereafter wearing a leather thong around his neck, with “a small, transparent globe hanging from it like a jewel or an ornament”—this holds the amputated pinky joint, preserved in formaldehyde, which the Master says he wears “ ‘to remind myself of the debt I owe you. [. . .] the albatross of my conscience” (50) and which he promises to return to Walt as soon as Walt manages to levitate. The joint, then, signifies Walt’s patrimony, the mark of the covenant

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between father and son, which Walt duly receives upon his first flight and, ritually, buries with the Master after he dies in a California desert (240).14 Whereas the forced amputation may at first evoke the oedipal fantasy of castration, it seems more apt to read it as a displaced act of circumcision, the sign that Walt willingly writes upon his body to mark forever his bond with his “father”—a meaning Auster underscores by way of jokey clichés when the Master tells Walt, “ ‘United we stand, divided we fall. You for me and me for you, and where we stop nobody knows’ ” (51). “Where we stop nobody knows” succinctly expresses the genealogical continuity of father to son—a deep and permanent connection of flesh and subjectivity, a historical, psychological, and social pact. Yet the pact seems compromised within the real world when the surrogate father and son reach beyond identity and embrace of the material world, toward materialism. Walt, like Master Yehudi, is driven toward flight not for the purposes of spiritual uplift but for success and fame—to be someone, according to the myth of American identity. No wonder, then, that Walt first experiences vertigo after having at last doubled his loft above the ground. It is the very day that the American fairy tale is punctured for both father and son, when the Ku Klux Klan lynches two of their surrogate family members, a Native American woman and a young black man. Auster’s symbolism is hardly subtle; the American Dream is built upon a history of racially motivated violence, which returns like the repressed reality principle to disrupt Walt and his Master’s fantasy. This episode marks Walt’s fall from innocence, which is only confirmed when, having succeeded wildly on the vaudeville circuit as Walt the Wonder Boy, he begins, with the onset of puberty, to experience dizzying headaches so blinding that he must stop levitating. His vertigo signals his loss of moral balance in the scheme of American moneymaking and finally grounds him, according to Auster’s historical allegory for the loss of American innocence as the twentieth century wears on.15 After he loses the Master for good, Walt, named by his surrogate father Mr. Vertigo, descends literally and figuratively; he follows an arc of corruption, through the Depression, into vengeful murder, toward lucrative criminality. To say, as Master Yehudi does, that Walt confronts “ ‘gravity’s revenge’ ” (200) is to recognize the dual principles of material and historical reality that harshly reinforce the boundary with fantasy. Walt is finally, like Auster’s other orphaned sons and imperfect fathers, punished for straining against the real of the body. But after all the existential angst, absences, and failure Auster visits on his fathers and sons, he closes Mr. Vertigo with a curiously upbeat, nostalgic, accepting image of Walt—if also rather flat and clichéd. Walt matures, casting off both his magic and his corrupt doings, to accept an unremarkable life, studded with the joys and pains of the everyday. In the final paragraphs, he imagines an alternative path to levitation, without the “hocus-pocus and high-flown talk” of the Master’s method, and as something done for oneself

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alone and not for a paying audience: “We all have it in us,” he asserts, “with enough hard work and concentration” (293). That is, he returns to the notion that the self can act on a human scale, and that reality can accommodate the flights, as it were, of fantasy without being wrenched into some alternative state that is finally incommensurate with the natural world or social equality. Walt seems to come back to earth, that is, squarely back within the precincts of the American Dream. But in arriving at this resolution, Auster shows that Walt and the Master each fulfill their covenantal duties—the Master to nurture the son, to teach him to reach, to excel, but also to accept his limitations; the son to remember the (surrogate) father. Walt devotes himself to writing the book of his life that celebrates Master Yehudi in the kind of act of textual remembrance that Quinn (like Stillman, Sr.) ultimately fails to produce in City of Glass. Mr. Vertigo thus installs the active, nurturing father/son relationship as a stay against corruption and incoherence, and it does so in terms that are inflected with a recognizable version of the Father’s law: accepting that Walt no longer may fly, Master Yehudi pronounces, “ ‘So be it. If that’s what God wants, then we have to bow to his will’ ” (200). Auster imagines a strange, wistful fantasy of a father here, a startling counternarrative to his own life story and to those he embeds within the bleaker City of Glass, where the fathers resemble nothing so much as remote, hidden, violently capricious gods. Auster’s final, reflexive in-joke, then, is fitting. In the closing pages of the narrative, Walt notes that he will upon his death leave the thirteen volumes of his life story “to my nephew Daniel Quinn. Dan will know what to do with the book I’ve written” (290). Indeed. Perhaps if Quinn, by reading Walt’s volumes, were to traverse Auster’s fictional landscape from an empty room in a city of glass, to the forgiveness of a son tutored by his father, according to all the old rules, within the open spaces of a practical American continent, he just might know what to do.

Jonathan Lethem: Signifying Manqué— Motherless Brooklyn Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn (1999) may pick up from the joking self-reflexiveness of Mr. Vertigo, but it most resembles Auster’s Moon Palace in that a son engages, all but unwittingly, in a quest for a father’s legacy. Insofar as Oedipus might be viewed as the originary detective in Western narrative, and his quest the originary ironic story of recognition and misrecognition, the quest upon which Lethem’s orphaned Lionel Essrog embarks as he seeks the murderer of his surrogate father, the small-time gangster Frank Minna, bears the marks of an oedipal struggle. Lionel seeks both to recover and resist the lost father, whom he fails to “recognize”

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for who he is, as a figure of both nurturance and deception. Like Auster in City of Glass, Lethem frames the narrative within the genre of the detective story. Lethem, however, emphasizes the hard-boiled version of the genre for his plotting and cast of characters. And whereas Auster probes the disembodiment inscribed by a postmodern metaphysics of language, Lethem devises his quest to uncover narrative secrets in terms of Lionel’s specially embodied relationship with language, insistently present in the linguistic plenitude of verbal tics caused by his “disability,” Tourette’s syndrome. Indeed, as James Peacock asserts, “[o]nly ostensibly a hard-boiled detective novel,” Motherless Brooklyn is, rather, mainly “a kaleidoscopic, picaresque journey” (Lethem 96) into the mind of the man whom Minna affectionately calls “Freakshow” (Lethem, Motherless 8), precisely because he takes language on such a wild and unpredictable ride.16 In a sense, Tourette’s opposes the very genre Lethem deploys; detective fiction presumes to master the messiness of human knowing to zero in on answers to specific questions about who, what, when, where, and why. As Lethem told an interviewer, the figure of the detective therefore perfectly suited his purposes: “I was looking for a traditional form because the linguistic contents were going to be so radical. [. . .] It seemed incredibly funny to me. He’d be the opposite of the hard-boiled detective who is defined by his verbal control, his mastery” (Johnson 128). And yet in a very real sense, Lionel’s “disability” proves itself a profound ability. Taking a cue from Lethem’s densely funny verbal play and from his framing of the narrative structure in terms of a joke Minna tells just before he dies, the implications of whose punch line Lionel must disentangle during the course of his quest, I offer in the subheading for this section a (bad, ungrammatical, and appropriating) pun on Henry Louis Gates’s notion of the “Signifyin’ monkey,” developed in “ ‘The Blackness of Blackness.’ ” I by no means suggest that Lethem’s novel invokes the racialized cultural and historical context so well explained by Gates’s trope for African American linguistic play. Rather, I appropriate the trope far more generally to suggest how the standard English of the dominant culture may be inverted by parody, pastiche, and reformulation to resist the meanings maintained within the power structure of that culture. In this context, the creatureliness of the speaker, which constitutes his otherness, aids his subversive acts within richly inventive verbal tics. Lionel’s condition leads Lethem to numerous hilarious turns on language, frequently impolitic or scatological, as Lionel’s punning, sonically charged, echolalic, anagram-like outbursts cross the borders of social acceptability like irruptions from the id—suggested, for example, by his frequent, compulsive cry, “Eat me!” (Motherless 2). His verbal tics also imply a deeper transgressive impulse regarding the construction of his identity and its connection to the Lacanian symbolic social order. In Lethem’s rendering, Tourette’s becomes a brilliant analogue for the deconstruction of

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the Father’s language at the foundation of the symbolic order, when the condition inserts “Kaos” against “Control” (2). The process of reformulating the patriarchal discourse in Motherless Brooklyn depends on the inextricability of the body from language. Tourette’s is an ailment that engages its sufferer equally in physical and verbal excess; as Oliver Sacks writes, it “is characterised by an excess of nervous energy, and a great production and extravagance of strange motions and notions: tics, jerks, mannerisms, grimaces, noises, curses, involuntary imitations and compulsions of all sorts, with an odd elfin humour and a tendency to antic and outlandish kinds of play” (87). Writing about the “poetics” of Tourette’s, Ronald Schleifer draws upon Sacks and other neurologists to point out the syndrome’s uniqueness in “the continuity it presents between motor and verbal activity.” In exploring the “connection between body and language” (139) expressed within Tourettic tics, he notes how the syndrome challenges the Cartesian division between mechanical, bodily responses to experience and meaningfulness: “the tics of Tourette’s syndrome convey meaning and provoke responses that raise questions about the ways in which [. . .] the materialities and meanings of discourse are bound together” (140). Schleifer advances the provocative claim that the “resources of language most starkly apprehensible in the extremity and dysfunctionality of Tourette’s syndrome are a source of much of poetry’s power” (142), but his argument, which favorably cites the depiction of the syndrome in Motherless Brooklyn, also highlights Lethem’s deconstructive insight: “Tourette’s teaches you what people will ignore and forget, teaches you to see the reality-knitting mechanism people employ to tuck away the intolerable, the incongruous, the disruptive” (Lethem 43, qtd. in Schleifer 143). The syndrome, that is, dismantles control to expose the repressed chaos of body and word that lie at the root of human experience and cognition. I begin in the middle of the novel, with a pivotal moment occurring within an anomalous, minimalist one-page chapter. The chapter is emphatically discursive rather than narrative, its reflexiveness breaking the novel’s verisimilitude and the premise of a consistent point of view. Lethem offers the chapter wholly as a parenthetical, an embedded form calling attention to its embedding, as if it speaks a secret fantasy or whispered confession emerging from the unconscious of the narrative discourse. Titled “(Tourette Dreams),” the chapter comprises just three parallel fragments, each, like the chapter title, enclosed in parentheses, and each claim appearing with white space above and below, as if inscribing lines of poetry: (in Tourette dreams you shed your tics) (or your tics shed you) (and you go with them, astonished to leave yourself behind) (Motherless 130).

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Because the novel is otherwise narrated in the first person from Lionel’s point of view, this chapter stands out not only for its brevity but also for its voice—for the disembodied, depersonalized voice of Tourette’s itself, dreaming the possibilities it offers to its sufferers. The voice addresses a second person, a fantasized displacement of the speaking subject who is aware that Tourette’s syndrome illuminates how the practice of language is inextricable from the body who speaks, and how, in turn, those two elements construct selfhood. The fantasy that the self—“you”—might shed or be shed from the tics depends, moreover, on a paradoxical conception. If the self is split, as the speaker implies in recognizing that the call of the tics causes “you” to “leave yourself behind,” the speaker’s astonishment at the implicit self-division also bespeaks an underlying assumption that the self must, or could, be unitary and coherent—that, in Lacanian terms, it might attain the Real that is the always absent object of desire. So it is that Lionel frequently refers to his disruptive “Tourette’s self” (22), as distinct from “Lionel,” or at least from his conception of who he, as the speaking subject, is or longs to be. The conception of the self as split does not originate with Lionel, however. The novel increasingly makes clear—as Tony, one of the orphaned “Minna Men” (7) whom Frank raises, protects, and employs, claims—that their surrogate father was a prototype of duality: “ ‘Frank Minna was two guys [. . .] The one I learned from and the chucklehead who thought you were funny and got himself killed. You only knew the chucklehead’ ” (184). Frank is both a hard guy living on the fringes of the criminal underworld and an empathetic, curious, playful man with a soft spot for lost boys like the Minna Men. He performs as two different fathers depending on his reading of his surrogate sons. Hoping the crafty Tony will succeed in the world of money and power, Frank makes him a fallen man by teaching him the mechanisms of crime and deception; but he maintains Lionel’s innocence, allowing him to educate himself within the illusions of novels, television, and movies, all the while keeping him skating on the surface of Frank’s lies. Lethem projects Frank’s doubleness and deception—his duplicity, in its full connotative resonance—into the framing metaphor of the novel as a whole. One would expect that a novel titled Motherless Brooklyn would take motherlessness as the central condition of its plotting and thematics, and the text initially supports such a reading. Frank uses the expression to characterize the Minna Men when he takes them to his mother’s apartment for a Christmas dinner; upon telling her, “ ‘I got all of motherless Brooklyn up here for you,’ ” they “drank in her nurturance as eagerly as her meat sauce.” But the fact that his brother, Gerard, first introduces himself to the boys on this occasion rather ominously by entering the room while repeating the phrase in “a voice we didn’t know” (71) signals the potential misdirection in the phrase. Lionel eventually learns that Gerard is as duplicitous as Frank, disguising his gangland activities by impersonating Roshi, a Zen master; but

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Gerard is far more morally compromised than Frank in his engagement in violence and, as Lionel uncovers, in his Cain-like responsibility for Frank’s death. Gerard’s echoing of the Minna Men’s motherlessness, which he later emphasizes by repetition (81), displaces and erases the more relevant fatherless condition of their lives, as if to exonerate himself. When Gerard makes them again fatherless, he creates a much larger void than the lack of a mother, which remains largely unaddressed in the narrative, has made for them. The Minna Men are yearningly fatherless, Frank fulfilling the role of father for them; their very naming as a group under the sign of Frank’s name inscribes their patrimonial focus and debt. Lionel’s narrative is entirely consumed with the mystery of the absent father figure and his attempt at supplying knowledge, justice, or retribution—the Father’s ideals—to fill that lack, such that he realizes, “I was Minna’s successor and avenger” (132).17 Such a duplicitous or split self as Frank (or Gerard) represents is of course not at all what Lacan describes. Lacan is accounting for the plight of the subject. Following the introduction of symbolization and the Other as the cause of misrecognition at the mirror stage, the self is split into the perpetually alienated subject that speaks and object that is spoken. Nevertheless, Frank’s doubleness serves Lethem’s purposes as a ground for the figurative development of Lionel’s syndrome. Lionel affirms that, after he “couldn’t find the language of myself,” “it was Minna who brought me the language” (37)—a transfer altogether in keeping with the Lacanian narrative of the symbolic Father’s role in the family. Frank took him from an orphanage to give him a social identity as one of the Minna Men and delighted in the locutions that poured forth once the “frozen sea” (47) of words at last bubbled forth; Minna “adored my echolalia” and “licensed my speech” (57), Lionel remarks. When Frank disappears for several years on the lam with Gerard, Lionel mourns the surrogate father’s function: “Minna wouldn’t be there to tell us what to think of Minna’s not being there, to give it a name” (81). The most significant spin that Lethem puts on the split self concerns how Lionel’s “Tourette’s self” serves subversive purposes. Lethem explores what Peacock calls “the paradox of Tourette’s”: despite “its incessant smoothing over of flaws, its compulsive desire to order, its striving for a discursive precision it can never attain,” the condition at the same time “reveals language and the world as play and difference” (Lethem 103–4). Just as chaos calls for control, control invites chaos. Lionel describes how language becomes his means during adolescence to rechannel his bodily compulsions to reach for, tap, grab, kiss, and lunge at others (Motherless 45). At the same time, he reveals the teeming physicality of words as an index not only to the indivisibility of word from bodily materiality but also to an implicit hierarchy within the binary construction. A mind speaking itself freely in language may be even more transgressive than when it speaks through the body:

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Language bubbled inside me now, the frozen sea melting, but it felt too dangerous to let out. Speech was intention [. . .] Pratfalls, antics—those were accidental lunacy, and more or less forgivable. Practically speaking, it was one thing to stroke Leshawn Montrose’s arm or even to kiss him, another entirely to walk up and call him Shefawn Mongoose, or Lefthand Moonprose, or Fuckyou Roseprawn. So, though I collected words, treasured them like a drooling sadistic captor, bending them, melting them down, filing off their edges, stacking them into teetering piles, before release I translated them into physical performance, manic choreography (47). Lionel’s syndrome virtually erases the division between words and flesh, and his almost literally manual manipulation of words—bending, melting down, filing, stacking—to reconvert his outbursts into the ticcing dance of bodily compulsion reveals the surging power of the impulses that generate his tics. Those “disruptive energies barely contained” (47) almost beg to be read in terms of the libidinal desires Freud viewed as relegated to the repressed unconscious and Lacan reinvented as the field of the Real from which the subject is permanently severed. The danger Lionel recognizes in his verbal outbursts, then, is the danger of speaking the truth, of allowing the physical propulsions of his verbal tics to expose the real of experience suppressed by social convention and linguistic displacements. Speech is, as he claims, intention. Talking to a homicide detective investigating Frank’s death, for example, when Lionel attempts to explain himself by naming his syndrome, thinking “Tourette’s was my other name,” he helplessly tics “ ‘Tourette is the shitman!’ ” Amused by the gullibility of the detective, who thereafter takes as subterfuge Lionel’s denial that “Tourette” is a person, he thinks, “Let Tourette be the suspect and maybe I’d get off the hook” (110). He thus underscores both his perception that his condition is at once his self and not-self, and also how he sees the not-self as the truth-telling repository of abjection and proscribed desire—the shitman, as it were. This episode discomfits Lionel but does not threaten his well-being, however. More pointed are moments when the ticcing exposes buried secrets and makes Lionel vulnerable for articulating them. Confronting Gerard, for example, he cannot suppress the name of a corporation, which he has inklings may underlie Gerard’s corrupt dealings, from slipping out in a crescendo of verbal invention. He tells Gerard a joke about nuns who have taken a vow of silence, the joke’s premise tweaking Gerard, who as the Roshi has hidden his corruption behind an allegedly pious but unfulfilled vow of silence. Describing the innocuous act of a nun flipping calendar pages, Lionel’s tic takes over: “‘Flip-a-thon! Fuck-a-door! Flipweed! Fujisaki! Flitcraft!’” Fujisaki, the name of the corporation, erupts in the midst of Lionel’s word-jumble. His Tourette’s self again calls out Gerard’s

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double-dealings when shortly thereafter, he says, “‘Talk to me about fool-mesoftly—Fujisaki’” (230, 232; italics in original). Fool-me-softly—the innocent recognizes that he has been duped but, paradoxically, expresses that recognition at just the moment he names the truth, upending the deception. Lionel here enacts the double movement that typifies the novel as a whole. Motherless Brooklyn’s dualities exist at several levels of the narrative: they comprise the contrary motions of the split self, the storytelling mechanism that at once conceals and reveals narrative secrets, and numerous doubled figures, including Frank/Gerard, Tony/Lionel, the mobster “Clients” (166) Matricardi/Rockaforte, and even the red herrings of The Clients/Fujisaki as the perpetrators of Frank’s murder. Lionel’s simultaneous innocence and resistance to it are traceable not only to his fundamental character but also, as I have suggested, to Frank Minna’s fatherly influence. Lionel is slow to discern the fallibilities in Frank’s blustering, self-deluded engagement in crime; that Frank, too, has been naively in over his head occurs to both of them only too late, when Frank dies after being knifed. Orphaned Lionel has welcomed the surrogate father’s teachings, and, according to the conventional father/son script, models himself after Frank. As Tony scornfully tells him, “ ‘you don’t know anything about how the world really works. Everything you know comes from Frank Minna or a book’ ” (184). Gerard later observes, “ ‘You are so like Frank’ ” (232), and indeed, Lionel concludes, “Frank Minna is a mover and a talker, a word and a gesture, a detective and a fool. Frank Minna c’est moi” (214, italics in original).18 Curiously, when he most fully embraces the “father’s” identity—impersonating Frank with the aid of Minna’s business card to the doormen at the Fujisaki corporation— his verbal tic disappears: “ ‘Frank Minna,’ I said. The name came easily, and I didn’t feel any need to distort it the way I would my own” (158). But then his bodily compulsion to touch and tap reenter the scene, as if to insist on the uniqueness of the Tourette’s identity that distinguishes him from the father figure; his body undermines his imitation and blocks him from the knowledge he seeks: “two of them had me by the elbows, and I was steered out onto the sidewalk” (159). It remains, then, for Lionel to accept the transgressiveness of his linguistic difference and to seek the answer to his quest in language—that is, to resist imitating Frank’s control and to let loose the chaos of his Tourette’s self. Frank commits himself to secrets—the reason for his several years’ disappearance, his relations with The Clients, the name of his murderer whose unrecognizable voice Lionel hears on the wire Frank wears during the fatal evening—but Lionel chooses knowledge. If Frank “loved talk but despised explanations” (69), the son chooses to renounce the surrogate father’s implicit silencing of meaning in pursuit of explanation. Paradoxically, however, he does so by way of the father’s patrimony. Searching for Frank’s murderer, he “dredg[es] up Minna’s usages [. . .], as though I could build a golem of his language, then bring it to life, a figure of vengeance to search

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out the killer or killers” (233). Lethem focuses Lionel’s efforts to escape the censorship of the Father at least in part on his engagement with the joke Frank cryptically alludes to just before he dies and that serves as a structuring motif in the novel. As Frank lies bleeding in the emergency room, Lionel talks in order to keep him alert but also to provoke him to confide who has attacked him. Frank keeps his secrets, however, seemingly deflecting Lionel by reminding him about a “ ‘Jewish joke’ ”—“ ‘The one about the Jewish lady goes to Tibet, wants to see the High Lama.’ ” Frank skips the middle of the joke’s narrative and goes directly to the end: “ ‘What’s the name of that lama? You know, at the end, the punch line.’ ” When Lionel gives him the name, Frank echoes, “ ‘Irving. [. . .] That’s who,’ ” after which he whispers the last, muffled word Lionel ever hears from him, which “sounded like ‘remember’ ” (29).19 What has appeared as a nonsensical misdirection, however, proves profoundly meaningful, as Frank has wrapped his confession about his murder—commanded by his own brother—in a riddle. When Lionel builds the golem of Frank’s language—specifically, by recalling the rest of the Jewish joke—he unravels the secret of the father’s slaying. Freud notes of the strange behavior of jokes that “Often they are not at the disposal of our memory when we want them; but at other times, to make up for this, they appear involuntarily [. . .] and at points in our train of thought where we cannot see their relevance” (Jokes 168). So, too, Lionel’s initial puzzlement at Frank’s reference to the Jewish joke. The lengthy joke recounts the determined efforts of a Jewish mother to go to Tibet to consult the “High Lama,” beginning with her insistence to a doubtful travel agent that “ ‘I vant to go to Tibet’ ” (88, italics in original). Thwarted at every step, when she at last reaches him at his mountaintop monastery, her first words serve as the punch line: “ ‘Irving, when are you coming home? Your father’s worried!’ ” (89). The immediate humor lies in the several absurdities of the Jewish joke: that a Jew named Irving is the High Lama, that the High Lama’s mother has such a mundane name as Mrs. Gushman and is known thereby only in her role as a wife and mother, that she achieves her aim despite all obstacles, that she reenacts the stereotype of the controlling Jewish mother, and that in the silence after the end of the joke we can imagine Irving the High Lama buckling under to the power of the Jewish mother. The mystified Lionel perceives in this narrative no clue to Frank’s murder. When he later hears Frank’s voice in his head asking for a joke, however, at the moment when he is seeking to clarify the identity of the Roshi, the words repeat according to his typical compulsiveness: “I vant to go to Tibet. [. . .] Come home Irving,” and then “Irving. When are you coming home, Irving? Your family misses you” (195–96, 197, italics in original). Lionel does not note the Tourettic slippage in language his unconscious mind invents—from “father’s worried” to “family misses”—but then, upon his seeing Roshi at last (like Mrs. Gushman making it to the mountaintop), the “joke” of Frank’s clue clicks into place like a Tourettic syllogism:

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Roshi looked like Minna. Your brother misses you, Irving. Irving equals Lama, Roshi equals Gerard. Roshi was Gerard Minna. Gerard Minna was the voice on the wire (200, italics in original). The joke reveals through Lionel’s compulsive word play, which at last substitutes “brother” for “father” and “family,” that Gerard committed fratricide. When Frank urged Lionel to remember “Irving [. . .] That’s who” (italics added), he was signaling Lionel to trace the familial connection through his characteristic linguistic channels to the repressed truth: Irving equals Lama, Roshi equals Gerard; Irving, the “answer” to the riddle of “who,” equals Gerard the murderer. Lethem makes the meaningful psychopathology of Tourette’s explicit when Lionel thinks to himself about a passing compulsive act that “it was hidden in plain sight, the Purloined Tic” (261). The novel thus invokes Poe and the founding text of the detective genre that structures its plot. Lethem cleverly replaces the “letter,” an artifact composed of conventional words—as well as the fundamental building block of language—with “tic,” an expression of the most unconventional language. More important, Lethem also summons up the interpretive framework so aptly derived from Freud’s foundational readings of language in its many symbolic and apparently accidental manifestations—in dreams, in jokes, in slips of the tongue—all of which suggest how latent meanings are “hidden in plain sight” within the manifest content that slips past the mind’s censor into expression. As with Lethem’s localized play on Poe’s words, the deeper significance lies in the way each of these symbol-making functions depends on the mechanism of displacement that Freud outlines in The Interpretation of Dreams, according to which the “dream-work” functions by “transference and displacement of the psychic intensities of the individual elements, from which results the textual difference between the dream-content and the thought-content” (199, italics in original). If displacement is like misdirection in magic, Frank’s joke is like a dream not yet interpreted. While Frank relies on a linguistic displacement that, perhaps not coincidentally, put the father rather than the brother into the joke’s narrative, Tourette’s, in Lionel’s propulsive articulation of suppressed, typically unsocialized thoughts, exhumes the latent content—the truth.20 Lionel’s representation of the foundational oedipal paradigm calls forth not only the narrative of resistance to the father’s authority but also the mandate to know and confront the father’s murderer—effectively, to recover the father. Solving the mystery does not, however, answer to all of Lionel’s questions and desires. If the dream of an undivided self is the fantasy of the parenthetical chapter, “(Tourette Dreams),” with which I began, Lionel must accept that this desire remains an unrealizable fantasy. Indeed, he confronts a self doubled in even more ways than by Tourette’s when he reconciles himself

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with the meaning of his actions: “I had wanted to think vengeance wasn’t me”; but “That was me, Lionel, hurtling through those subterranean tunnels, visiting the labyrinth that runs under the world, which everyone pretends is not there.” Moreover, he must accept that the doubled, duplicitous Minnas together performed as his father: “the Minna brothers are a part of me, [. . .] Frank because he gave me my life and Gerard because, though I hardly knew him, I took his away” (Motherless 310). One reality Lionel must accept as the split self that his Tourette’s has always identified is the fracture of his moral innocence; he is both victimized son and remorseless perpetrator. Lethem figures Lionel’s acceptance of his own dualities within a passing reference to a subgeneric shift. Speaking with Kimmery, the young woman with whom Lionel briefly has a relationship, he asks if she likes jokes, to which she replies, “ ‘You know what koans are? They’re like Zen jokes, except they don’t really have punch lines’ ” (255). Lionel effectively must move his expectation for the form of a life-narrative away from jokes to koans. Yet he need not align with Frank, who exercises his fatherly authority most damagingly by guarding secrets and suppressing explanations, keeping his “son” in the dark when answers and explanations might have been possible. As if to test Lionel’s resolve, then, Lethem leaves him with two unsolved mysteries, focused on the convention according to which names are meaningful. The names that are for him lingering mysteries are “Ullman,” designating a man supposedly involved with Frank’s murder; and “Bailey,” a name that he compulsively tics without knowing how it became lodged in his unconscious. Lionel’s final lines flatly take the unanswerable questions in stride: “Ullman? Never met the guy. Just like Bailey. They were just guys I never happened to meet” (311). James Berger argues, in claiming for the novel that Tourette’s “appears as a neurological disruptor of the social-symbolic world as a closed system” (210), that “Bailey is the constant mystery of Lionel’s consciousness, the recurring ‘other’ of the novel. It seems to stand for what cannot be translated or combined” (214)—or, I would suggest, cannot even be construed. As Berger continues, metaphors, from a poststructuralist point of view, “are tics: they are uncontrollable eruptions from outside the symbolic order that disrupt that order,” thus “signal[ing] the possibility of freedom in the form of the disruptive, the unpredictable, the irreducible” (218). As a son, constructed of multiple selves, Lionel must welcome how reality partakes of perpetual ambiguities and that his own embodied vantage point on language will forever surge out into the world in coprolalic outbursts and deliciously contorted metaphors that persistently snicker at the order of the Father. Willy-nilly, but all to the good, Lionel Essrog—whose name invites but frustrates being read as an anagram21—remains a signifier, both a name as object and a subject who signifies, perpetually dedicated to chaos.

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6 The Father in the Apocalyptic Imagination—Part One: The Environment

Jonathan Lethem delights in losing Lionel Essrog into the field of chaotic signification, as I have suggested. His playful purpose is to demonstrate, with affection, a figurative son disrupting the symbolic order of the father, accepting the indeterminacy of sign and subject, and confronting the power of the material body to bear upon meaning. Like the writers explored in the previous chapters of Fictive Fathers, Lethem focuses on the intimate personal pressures on subjects within the relatively “ordinary” social environment of the postwar United States. This chapter entertains similar questions but by looking outward, at pervasively threatening American universes, as Don DeLillo in White Noise (1985) and Cormac McCarthy in The Road (2006) address the breakdown of the symbolic order by exploring fathers working under conditions of extremity produced by environmental catastrophe. Neither father is literally absent from the scene but, like those in the novels of, say, Franzen, Roth, and Robinson, they are ineffectual in facing the conditions of their disrupted worlds. McCarthy shows a father whose impotence is entirely material and practical, as he is tested by matters of basic survival. Ecological cataclysm, of unspecified human or natural origin, has thrown civilization into violent chaos, making his world uninhabitable. The father is resourceful but finally overwhelmed as he seeks to satisfy his son’s fundamental needs for food, shelter, and warmth. McCarthy imagines an apocalypse that is concrete, corporeal, dystopian, and tragic—The Road is freighted with signs of last things. Yet McCarthy’s apocalyptic imagination does not truly investigate the imminent crisis of climate change or human responsibility for it. His interest lies instead in how survivors respond to catastrophe on a global natural scale; the novel focuses on the tragedies of social chaos and material 145

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want. By contrast, DeLillo’s novel takes up the spectacle of human-made natural catastrophe from an ironic distance, but the novel’s tone and perspective nearly erase the ecological implications of its premises. White Noise instead shrugs fatalistically and with mordant humor at the disappearance of meaning into signs. DeLillo satirizes the self-deceiving postpatriarchal protagonist for flailing nostalgically to reconstitute his mythic paternal authority in order to confront a poisonous natural environment and consumer economy. Each novel employs the device of environmental calamity not as subject matter to illuminate the toxic relationship of humans to nature, let alone to think about the natural, nonhuman world on its own terms. Instead, each tests humans against extreme conditions, projecting paternal impotence into the signifying system of the natural and social environment. Strikingly, both narratives close with the same genealogical trope—a hope that resides in the son to counter the father’s failures, implying that the moribund patriarchal system might still revive. Their endings thus reinstate the dominant myth at least partially responsible for their respective catastrophes. The grave evocation of spiritual redemption in McCarthy’s final glance toward the next generation undercuts the nihilistic view of natural and social apocalypse to which the novel has inevitably drawn; DeLillo’s look to the son, however, only consolidates his ironic ravaging of human possibility in the Anthropocene. Yet despite the profound tonal opposition between the two novels—McCarthy’s tragic, sentimental intimacy versus DeLillo’s haunted but satiric distance—both engage in a kind of bad faith testimony to the saving power of a genealogical promise that, given the evidence the novels otherwise present, may seem retrograde.

Don DeLillo: The Genealogical Imperative as Toxic Event—White Noise Whereas Lethem’s canvas is Brooklyn, and intimate, McCarthy’s is a vast, blasted, indeterminate southern American landscape, marked by privation and the violence of a dismantled social order. DeLillo’s location, by contrast, is the fictional Blacksmith, a small, bland American city that could be anywhere in the postindustrial, capitalist United States. The father’s failure in DeLillo’s novel is brought into focus by his town’s confrontation with a specific environmental catastrophe, the “‘airborne toxic event’” (DeLillo, White Noise 117) released by a chemical spill from a derailed tank car. This “event,” which dominates the second of the novel’s three parts, becomes an overdetermined metaphor—for consumerism, for familial disintegration, for environmental degradation undertaken blithely, for the deconstruction of the patriarchal social order, and for residing in what Peter Boxall calls a “historical vacuum” (110).

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Whereas McCarthy’s narrative is temporally indefinite yet set in a future seemingly not too distant from the time of its composition, DeLillo’s is situated with apparent historical precision within the present of its publication, in the 1980s. The seeming situatedness of White Noise, however, both invokes and undercuts a historicized reading, bearing witness to the passing of the humanist enterprise during the post-Enlightenment period that is, also, the postmodern. Boxall draws on one of the titular motif’s meanings, in which “white noise” marks “absence from history” (109), to suggest that the form of the novel inscribes a historical vacuum through its “plotless narrative, which is light on historical detail and lacking in temporal tension” and “never brought into a historical or narrative plot” (110). Without the narrative drive of a historically situated plot—whereby plotting originates meaning—White Noise is temporally unmoored, its signs little more than white noise, except for its obvious fixation on death as the unidirectional end to all narrative. The narrator-protagonist, professor Jack Gladney, tells his students, “ ‘All plots tend to move deathward. This is the nature of plots,’ ” only to ask himself “Is this true? Why did I say it? What does it mean?” (White Noise 26). The novel seeks answers to Gladney’s questions in a pursuit that is inevitably derailed by the breakdown of patriarchal authority and its ordering language. Boxall’s insight into how the novel’s form resists temporality, coupled with Gladney’s alertness to the uncertainties of plot, inserts White Noise into an ongoing tradition of patriarchal critique found in Western narrative. Patricia Tobin captures the phenomenon within her central metaphor of the “genealogical imperative” (discussed in Chapter 3), which she detects as on the decline within the modernist novel. Tobin deploys the metaphor to “[equate] the temporal form of the classical novel—the conceptualized frame within which its acts and images find their placement—with the dynastic line that unites the diverse generations of the genealogical family,” according to which causality, purpose, and familial significance are linked to temporal sequence (6–7). “Within the extended family,” Tobin writes, the individual member is guaranteed both identity and legitimacy through the tracing of his lineage back to the founding father, the family’s origin and first cause. [. . .] He extends the paternal promise of purpose throughout his progeny, bestowing upon them a legacy that contains within the structural unity an entire history of meaning. [. . .] When [. . .] ontological priority is conferred upon mere temporal anteriority, the historical consciousness is born, and time is understood as a linear manifestation of the genealogical destiny of events. The same lineal decorum pervades the structure of realistic narrative: all possibly random events and gratuitous details are brought into an alignment of relevance, so that at the point of conclusion all possibility has been converted into necessity within a line of kinship (7–8).

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Tobin succinctly summarizes the relationship between the linear narrative of time and the conferring of familial meaning and historicity. She details the very linkage that DeLillo’s novel undercuts within a postmodern framing of disruption, indeterminacy, and fragmentation in word and world, which obliterates the authority of the patriarch, turning the father into a virtual self-parody. Tobin prepares for how DeLillo locates the dismantling of the genealogical imperative within language itself. Citing Roland Barthes’s The Pleasure of the Text, she asserts that “Mastery is the prerogative of the father, and in Western languages the unit of mastery is the sentence,” equivalent to “a genealogy in miniature.” Tobin emphasizes the “analogy between life and language,” metaphorically conflating the word with patriarchal authority: “At its origin [the sentence] fathers a progeny of words, sustains them throughout in orderly descent and filial obedience, and through its act of closure maintains the family of words as an exclusive totality” (17–18). Jack Gladney, DeLillo’s representative father, fails to fulfill just such an act of paternal ordering and articulation. DeLillo captures the discursive malfunction within the ideological apparatus, ironically naming the environmental catastrophe that is, or at least appears to be, the major signifying occurrence within the narrative. Readers might expect an “airborne toxic event” to signify as an “event”: to constitute a turning point, a node of fictive “fact” established within the diegesis so as to produce consequences for what follows. Indeed, the passage in which Gladney and his fleeing family first sight the toxic cloud predicts its potential for transformative meaningfulness within the novel’s linear structure. He spies “outlandish wonderment” at the threatening cloud in the faces of other townspeople in flight and remarks how the “enormous dark mass moved like some death ship in a Norse legend,” how the cloud “was a terrible thing to see” but also “spectacular, part of the grandness of a sweeping event,” toward which the observers’ “fear was accompanied by a sense of awe that bordered on the religious” (White Noise 127). The narration of the family’s escape, its sheltering with the aid of Red Cross volunteers, the children’s susceptible imitation of the symptoms of exposure they hear described on the radio—all such details suggest that not only Gladney’s family but also their entire society will be significantly disrupted, shifting what follows into a post-catastrophe narrative, much like science fiction exploring post-apocalyptic scenarios. Yet within the plotting of the novel, the “event” dissipates like its toxic fumes into the atmosphere, appearing mostly incidentally thereafter. The poisonous cloud leaves detectable traces within Gladney’s body and his children’s anxieties but only within the larger community or landscape of Blacksmith by way of the absurd, commodified “ ‘simulated evacuations’ ” of “ ‘Advanced Disaster Management, a private consulting firm’ ” channeling messages through “ ‘the SIMUVAC broadcast system’ ” (205–6). White Noise thus converts event into sign, sold within the system of capital. DeLillo’s narrative structure underscores the relative

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inconsequence of the catastrophe insofar as the temporal and explanatory gap between the middle chapter, “The Airborne Toxic Event,” and the final chapter, “Dylarama,” remains strangely unfilled.1 When DeLillo deflates the “facticity” of the toxic cloud, diminishing the notion of such an “event” to a free-floating moment of minimized concern within a story of self, society, or nature, the novel effaces the possibility of meaningful history. Hayden White credits Arthur Danto for the “canonical version of the distinction between an event and a fact” according to which “‘a fact is an event under a description’”; White notes that “[a]n event cannot enter into a history until it has been established as fact,” necessarily in “speech or writing” (“Event” 13). When the novel’s discourse elides the chemical cloud’s occurrence as a grave event, it escapes history. To escape history is to foreclose any future-directed genealogy of idea or familial descent. Ultimately, the looming, noxious black cloud of the airborne toxic event signals the erasure of genealogy as a social and natural phenomenon that instantiates and confirms historical continuity. No longer an event of terrifying ecological repercussions, the cloud sinks into the historical vacuum, reduced into a metaphor for the social and psychological disaster of the failing ideological system. The thing, in all its dangerous thingness, becomes a name to be consumed and discarded like any other passing sign, with little priority or weight. The discursive disjunctiveness to which White Noise attests is no surprise to many of its commentators; some of the strongest readings of the novel have focused on DeLillo’s insight into the postmodern dispersion of meaning into a world of signs and simulacra rather than “reality.” Leonard Wilcox, for example, asserts that the world of the novel is characterized by the collapse of the real and the flow of signifiers emanating from an information society, by a “loss of the real” in a black hole of simulation and the play and exchange of signs. In this world common to both [Jean] Baudrillard and DeLillo, images, signs, and codes engulf objective reality [. . .] Moreover, [. . .] a media-saturated consciousness threatens the concept of meaning itself (346–47). I have little to contribute to the many superb accounts, like Wilcox’s, of how in White Noise DeLillo shrewdly embodies the postmodern crisis of representation. For my purposes, however, the loss of historicity as a function of the deconstructed relation of signifier and signified has clear consequences for the position of the father within the signifying system.2 To return to Tobin’s account, then, if according to the dominant myth of paternity the father is to bear authority over meaning and its perpetuation, the failure of the patriarchal model becomes visible within two spheres: the semiotic and the temporal. Gladney hints at semiotic slippage in the passage in which he first views the toxic cloud: “This was a death made in the laboratory, defined and

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measurable, but we thought of it at the time in a simple and primitive way, as some seasonal perversity of the earth like a flood or tornado, something not subject to control. Our helplessness did not seem compatible with the idea of a man-made event” (White Noise 127–28). Gladney’s redescription of the cloud within the discourse of natural rather than human origin allows him to categorize it with impunity as “not subject to control”—in a persistent and (as we now, to our horror, know) pernicious shirking of responsibility for the environmental spoliations of the Anthropocene. Gladney’s expression is willfully passive. Dismissing his “helplessness,” he supplies no agent for “control,” which by implication must be the American capitalist system governed by the paternalistic powers of government and corporations running an economy that promotes consumerism, requires the dispatch of toxic chemicals across the countryside, and displaces meaning into the empty signifiers of advertising. Gladney represents the patriarch duped into complacency: “The system had blessed my life. I felt its support and approval. [. . .] The system was invisible, which made it all the more impressive, all the more disquieting to deal with. But we were in accord, at least for now. The networks, the circuits, the streams, the harmonies” (46). Gladney’s illusion of plenitude in the signs and pathways of the system conceals its hostility to human meaning and value. Wilcox, whose argument focuses on Gladney as “a modernist displaced in a postmodern world” (348), describes DeLillo’s Baudrillardian “vision of an entropic breakdown of basic rituals and concepts in the informational flow of electronic communication” (347). Wilcox observes that Gladney suffers the “crisis of representation relating directly to the collapse of patriarchal authority and to the breakup of [. . .] oedipal configurations” (349) that would allow for ongoing understanding, lineage, and stable selfhood. In invoking the oedipal, Wilcox drives Tobin’s scenario explicitly toward psychoanalysis, pointing out how DeLillo’s postmodern world is one in which “in Lacanian terms the stability of the nom du père is subject to doubt, indeed where notions of a centered authority are mere residues from an earlier period. [. . .] The postmodern family is no longer organized around the nom du père; rather it is utterly decentered and globally dispersed” (358). By this measure, Gladney represents the last gasp of an order dependent on the Logos as the province of the father’s authority and authenticity. “I tell myself I have reached an age, the age of unreliable menace,” Jack tells himself. “The world is full of abandoned meanings” (White Noise 184). Faced with the semiotic dispersal of selfhood, family, and even the real, the father can no longer sustain the myth of a genealogical imperative that replicates a coherent system of law and value, linking the past to the future. The latter point illuminates the temporal conundrum DeLillo introduces into White Noise’s depiction of the father’s failures. If genealogy is the central trope supporting the world of the fathers, wherein biological procreation reifies the continuation of the father’s name and authority in an

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unbroken line of descent, one might expect that when an apocalyptic event ruptures linear time, the father would be responsible for reinstalling genealogy. In DeLillo’s world, however, stripped of the resources of meaningmaking, the father cannot restart linear time. The novel captures the dilemma in the figure of déjà vu, one of the symptoms allegedly caused by the toxic cloud, which Boxall remarks as “the simultaneous doubling and evacuation of the moment” (113). The uncanny perception of temporal repetition, an ironic eternal return, demonstrates how the world of Blacksmith is flattened into a perpetual present. Boxall insightfully links DeLillo’s trope to how the novel’s plotless form inscribes a historical vacuum: he finds the experience of déjà vu to be the reader’s, too, “a symptom of the failure of narrative and of history to cohere” such that we “[find] ourselves adrift in unbounded narrative time,” feeling “constantly as if we have been here before, as if the present which we occupy is somehow second hand, already elsewhere” (111). Boxall pushes the argument toward the novel’s eschatology—notable, of course, in Gladney’s obsession with death. But Boxall’s notion that the novel’s temporality is altogether “trembling on the brink of millennial catastrophe” (112) is undercut by the very lack of historical import I have described earlier. The apocalypse refuses to show itself as apocalyptic; if, as Boxall asserts, “the past and the future have collapsed into the now,” the novel’s “empty time” (117) is also empty of result. Nevertheless, Boxall’s focus on Gladney (not DeLillo) as controlling the narrative—as “taking responsibility for the novel’s episodic plotlessness, its lack of drive and tension” (111)—is perceptive in shifting attention to the father’s investment in enacting, through the act of storytelling, the authority he takes as his birthright. White Noise’s most sardonic humor emerges, rather like billows of the toxic cloud, around Gladney’s renditions of manhood, including fatherhood, his marital relations, and his professional identity—in performances of unreliable narration that betray his impotence, lack of self-knowledge, and incompetence with respect to the possibility of genealogical fulfillment. Gladney operates as the unwitting butt of DeLillo’s satire, for example, when he comforts himself with his role as teacher and scholar, the inventor of Hitler studies in North America (White Noise 4) and proud head of his department (117), which allows him to feel “secure in [his] professional aura of power, madness and death” (72). Yet he reveals from the beginning uneasy inklings of his distance from the potency that studying Hitler was meant to confer on him, noting how his college’s chancellor encouraged him to change his name, gain weight, and “become more ugly” in order to avoid his “tendency to make a feeble presentation of self”; having changed his designation from “Jack” to “J. A. K.,” he intuits that “I am the false character that follows the name around” (16–17). Gladney’s very selfhood thus detaches signifiers from their signifieds. His narration repeats this impression several times when he juxtaposes his internal self-assessment, as when he prides himself on being the “benefactor”

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to his family (84), to external views of him as a “ ‘big, harmless, aging, indistinct sort of guy’ ” (83) who is told by a stranger that his eyes are “ ‘washed-out,’ ” his mouth “ ‘nondescript,’ ” his complexion “ ‘sweaty-type,’ ” and his shoulders “ ‘slumped’ ”—that altogether, Gladney looks “ ‘[h]aunted, ashen, lost’ ” (163). That Gladney’s self-presentation bespeaks his inadequacy as a figure of patriarchal authority is confirmed time and again in DeLillo’s depictions of his family. The Gladneys are anything but a nuclear family emblematizing the mid-twentieth-century American Dream. Rather, they are, as Mark Osteen notes, “a loose aggregate of siblings, step-siblings, and ex-spouses rotating in various impermanent groupings” (viii). Jack has four children, from three different wives, not all of them living with him and his latest wife, Babette; Thomas J. Ferraro points out that “Not a single child whom Babette has borne or whom Jack has fathered [. . .] is living with both parents or even a full brother or sister” (17). So much, in the very configuration of the Gladney family, for genealogical continuity or logic.3 Wilcox notes that Jack seeks “to preserve earlier notions of an authentic and coherent identity by observing the tribalistic rituals of family life” (348). Yet Gladney’s relations with his family members, together and individually, only reaffirm his failure. Jack has a caring but objectifying relationship with Babette; as she drifts into dislocation and drug dependency, hoping to diminish her own fear of death, Jack speaks of her to her face in the third person, insisting that, for example, “‘[t]he whole point of Babette is that she speaks to me’” (White Noise 192), or that “‘[s]he is strong, healthy, outgoing, affirmative. She says yes to things. This is the point of Babette’” (220), or “‘Babette doesn’t speak like this’” (301). He cannot accommodate change or Babette’s resistance to fulfilling his image of her. He needs to insist that she has a “point” that he has inscribed, as the author of their marriage. The contrary point comes home to Jack when he discovers that, in order to procure the experimental drug, Dylar, that she hopes will cure her ennui and memory loss, Babette has cuckolded him with the mysterious figure of “Mr. Gray.” Jack imagines this pseudonymous threat as “[s]marter than the rest of us, selfless, sexless,” a man of “mastery and control” (241)—a figure of impervious masculinity and authority. Gladney ruefully observes that he succeeds no better with his children, despite his genuine concern for them. At the age of nine, his daughter Steffie holds his hand not to gain confidence from him but to reassure him, to “keep me from becoming resigned to whatever melancholy moods she thought she detected hovering about my person” (39). Babette’s eleven-yearold daughter, Denise, the child most attuned to bodily and environmental threats, gives him a “hard-eyed look”—“the look she usually saved for her father and his latest loss of foothold” (137). Denise subsequently adopts the role of protector, especially of her mother, that Jack is useless to perform. But when she throws her energies into the empty simulations staged after the airborne toxic event, sold to the public as preventing mass casualties in

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subsequent emergencies, her dedication betrays Jack’s failure to tutor her past her naïve faith that institutions will save her. Jack’s deficiencies are perhaps most visible in relation to his son, however. Because the genealogical narrative defines its strongest power and authenticity within the male line of descent, father to son, Gladney’s inadequacy with Heinrich most exposes his instability as a figure capable of bestowing meaningfulness or historical continuity within the family lineage. DeLillo satirizes Gladney for naming Heinrich out of the vain hope that the “ ‘authority’ ” dwelling in the German language might give his son power, might “ ‘make him unafraid’ ” (63)—the palpable irony being that Jack’s knowledge of German forcefulness derives from his study of the brutal, dehumanizing Nazi state. That is, Jack assigns a signifier of fascist power to his only son, a gesture that exposes his own sense of powerlessness and deafness to his incongruous management of the (literal) Name-of-the-Father. Heinrich, too, turns the tables on his father’s claim to authority; he commands a kind of existential knowingness that strips his father of the pretense of safety Jack tries to perpetrate on his children to comfort them. His hairline already receding at the age of fourteen (22), Heinrich is old before his time. When Jack asserts that some unspecified officials have the toxic cloud under control, Heinrich dismisses the claim, and then altogether rejects the efficacy of knowledge, the very currency of the genealogical imperative: “ ‘What good is knowledge if it just floats in the air? [. . .] But nobody actually knows anything’ ” (148–49). Like Denise, Heinrich takes charge during the emergency where Jack fails to do so, but like her, too, in her simulated catastrophes, he puts his faith in a kind of magical thinking from which Jack cannot dislodge him: “ ‘The more you practice something’” he tells his father, “ ‘the less likely it is to actually happen’ ” (207). When Heinrich reproduces terrifying information he has read regarding the consequences of a range of environmental toxins, Jack, preoccupied with the possibilities of his own death from exposure to the cloud, narrates the scene in a rhetoric that at once expresses his fatherly duty and demonstrates his inability to fulfill it: “I wanted to argue with him. [. . .] But what could I say, considering my condition? I wanted to tell him that statistical evidence of the kind he was quoting from was by nature inconclusive and misleading. I wanted to say that he would learn to regard all such catastrophic findings with equanimity as he matured” (175, italics added). Needless to say, Jack manages to say no such things to Heinrich. He holds no power over the consolations, however delusory, of the discourse of reason and linear time that he allegedly inherits from the post-Enlightenment fathers. Indeed, Gladney’s anxiety over mortality pervades the novel—he wakes “in the grip of a death sweat” (47), for example, and is preoccupied with reading obituaries (99). His fear can be read not only as a genuine dread of bodily death, but also as his intuition that he participates in a postpatriarchal, post-genealogical ideological system. The question he and Babette entertain

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repeatedly—“Who will die first?”— signals that each fears being left behind, but, perhaps more to the point, also conveys Jack’s recognition of their condition of ahistoricity: “The question of dying,” he thinks, “becomes a wise reminder. It cures us of our innocence of the future” (15). Jack later consults with a doctor regarding the scans determining his exposure to “Nyodene D.,” the toxic chemical in the cloud, only to be warned that the traces in his bloodstream are likely to cause a “ ‘nebulous mass.’ ” DeLillo’s choice of abstracting, dehumanizing clinical language—another example of the novel’s play with signs that deflect meaning—portends the ideological implications of this physical diagnosis when the doctor explains tautologically that “ ‘It’s called a nebulous mass because it has no definite shape, form or limits’” (280). The nebulous mass—anticipated, perhaps fated—takes on the character of a metaphysical condition beyond human understanding, and certainly beyond the reach of the father to bring it toward coherent sense. DeLillo’s satire of Jack as the representative figure of a dying system attempting to reinstall its mythic powers is visible in the retrogressive answers Jack poses to his uncertainties. Perhaps most prominent is his appeal to masculine violence, absurdly figured by the gun he takes up against the man who has cuckolded him. His father-in-law, Vernon, who fulfills a stereotypical image of American masculinity—“His carpenter years, his fling with motorcycles, his biceps tattoo” (248)—gives Jack a loaded gun because “ ‘It’s only a question of time as to when you’ll want to use it’ ” (253). Gladney’s colleague Murray Siskind, who functions as Jack’s unbridled foil figure, inclined toward unearned confidence and vatic statement, subsequently incites Jack toward tapping his “ ‘great dark lake of male rage’ ” (292) in order to control his fear of death. Noting that repression “ ‘is the natural language of the species’ ” (289), Murray encourages him to “ ‘[b]e the killer for a change,’ ” arguing, “ ‘[t]he killer, in theory, attempts to defeat his own death by killing others. [. . .] To plot is to live’ ” (291), and goading him to “ ‘[t]hink how exciting it is [. . .] to kill a person in direct confrontation’ ” (290). Rather than discern the moral horror of what Murray urges, Jack “saw things new” (304). Specifically, his new vision teaches him how he might avenge himself against the pseudonymous sexual nemesis, “Mr. Gray.” He convinces himself that such a murderous plot might restore the familial order undone by Babette’s unfaithfulness, reinstalling him in the position of a founding father, in Tobin’s terms, with control over identity and legitimacy. How far Jack has strayed from the straits of the law appears in his deluded apprehension that, in contemplating such violence, “I knew the precise nature of events. I was moving closer to things in their actual state as I approached a violence, a smashing intensity” (305). Jack’s perceptions as he contemplates violence are entirely mediated by the duplicitous world of signs. He performs the murder of Willie Mink, alias “Mr. Gray,” as a vicious comedy of errors, not a grand act of retribution. Mink, high on his own experimental drug, is

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incoherent, irrational, and paranoid, but Jack remains wedded to his farcically “elaborate” plan for murder (311), borne of the movies, not the real conditions of Mink’s vulnerability. The scene in which Gladney shoots Mink plays nearly as the inverse of Meursault’s murder of the man on the beach in Camus’s The Stranger, which argues through a transgressive act for the absurd condition of humanity in an indifferent world. Gladney, by contrast, feels in tune with the very ideological system that DeLillo exposes as barren by way of its abuses, by Jack’s struggle to maintain it, and by his fantasy that violent action restores referentiality to language: “I knew who I was in the network of meanings,” Jack is gratified to think. Seeing Mink’s blood, he applauds his insight: “I saw beyond words. I knew what red was, saw it in terms of dominant wavelength, luminance, purity. Mink’s pain was beautiful, intense”; and he congratulates himself, “I was pleased to see how well it was going” (312). If Jack practices the father’s law, it must be a perverse law indeed that would take pleasure in another’s pain. Nor does it go at all well, or at least not according to the narrative of definitive masculine action embedded within the discourse of the dominant fiction. Not only does Mink not die, but when he shoots Jack in the wrist, Jack incoherently reverses himself. Feeling “virtuous” and “selfless” (314), his “humanity soar[ing]” (315), Jack takes Mink to the hospital for care— only to be disabused of his conviction that he is thus redeeming himself by a nun who is perhaps the most skeptical or undeceived character he encounters. She dismisses the notion that anyone is ever saved, that angels or heaven exist, that there are beliefs to hold dear. She notes acerbically and nihilistically that, as a nun, “ ‘Our pretense is a dedication. Someone must appear to believe. [. . .] We are your lunatics. We surrender our lives to make your nonbelief possible’ ” (319). The nun deflates the entire system upon which the genealogical imperative rests: the patriarchal myth of God the Father as the transcendental signified to which all earthly fathers are indebted for their narrative of authority, historical continuity, and familial lineage. The system DeLillo punctures finds its most poignant representation in Gladney’s impotent, fantasized relationship to the youngest child in the family, Babette’s two-year-old son, Wilder. The novel first makes Wilder’s character vivid in a scene narrated before the airborne toxic event occurs, as if to herald its fatal potential. The child, without apparent cause, cries uncontrollably for nearly seven hours before he stops as unaccountably as he had begun. Gladney describes the increasing crisis of Wilder’s cries: “The rhythmic urgency had given way to a sustained, inarticulate and mournful sound. He was keening now. [. . .] There was something permanent and soul-struck [. . .] It was a sound of inbred desolation. [. . .] He was crying out, saying nameless things in a way that touched me with its depth and richness. This was an ancient dirge” (77–78). Not only is Wilder inconsolable—his father incapable of consoling him—but also Jack seems to

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distance himself, to revel in the “complex intelligence” that the keening of this preverbal child conveys to him: “I found that I did not necessarily wish him to stop. [. . .] I entered it, fell into it, letting it enfold and cover me” (78). Jack seems to reduce his suffering child into a signifier of suffering. He responds as if the inarticulate cries are meant for his consumption in order to expose useful secrets to Jack from some mysterious metaphysical depths sounding in the “ancient dirge”—hardly the response of a father who wishes to protect his offspring from pain. That Gladney enjoys the image of himself as a figure of protectiveness and continuance seals the satirical critique of his paternal position—a misbegotten genealogical imperative that becomes equivalent, in familial terms, to a toxic event. He loves to gaze at his sleeping children: “Watching children sleep makes me feel devout, part of a spiritual system. It is the closest I can come to God” (147); indeed, watching sleeping children leaves him “feeling refreshed and expanded in unnameable ways” (182). In Jack’s pleasure one might infer not only the father’s procreative pride—the children attest to his genealogical successes, bringing him as close as possible to imitating the power of God the Father—but also, observing his offspring at their most vulnerable moments, the father feels confidently in charge of their safekeeping. Jack’s delusions are therefore, with ironic relish on DeLillo’s part, exposed in the brief penultimate scene of the novel. Not precisely a “climax,” a feature lacking in White Noise’s plotless narrative, this last “event,” like others in the novel, falls into a historical vacuum with the immediacy only of displaced discourse, as Gladney depends for the story of the event on two elderly women who witness it, not his own perceptions. In this scene, Wilder heedlessly rides his tricycle across an expressway, as if “mystically charged” (322) to fulfill the irrational task of inviting death, and insensible to the cries of panicking adult observers and the terror of the drivers hurtling past him. It is as if, “extremely deliberate in his movements,” he acts according to some mysterious command, but also out of a complete innocence of death, such that he makes “the decision to cry” (323) only after he reaches the other side and his tricycle topples down an embankment into a creek. Gladney’s impotence as a father registers in his tone—which remains curiously calm and objective within the two pages in which he recounts the event—and in the narrative situation. At the moment when he is most needed as a figure of protection, required to shape an accident into a story in which the patriarch secures his genealogical authority, Jack is absent. Word and world elude his power. He must rely on blind contingency to save his child. Signs evade his control as well, as he is left to reconstruct the story of his son’s survival from others’ accounts; he remains narratively emasculated, as it were, at spatial and temporal remove, unable to speak this event into a meaningful history. Gladney’s is at best a second-hand fatherhood, attesting to a second-hand, and moribund, system.

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Cormac McCarthy: “There is no Book and your Fathers are Dead in the Ground”—The Road To pose McCarthy’s The Road against White Noise is to bring DeLillo’s satire into sharp relief. McCarthy’s post-catastrophe novel seems nearly to turn DeLillo’s inside out, uncannily touching on many of the same points, thematically and ideologically, but as if from the underside of the weave of genre, tone, and consequence. In place of DeLillo’s distanced, postmodern voice of irony, McCarthy offers an intimate, despairing voice of tragic naturalism. The abstract threats in White Noise, such as Jack and Babette’s shared fear of death, become concrete, violent dangers faced daily by the nameless father and son in The Road. If White Noise is effectively plotless, The Road has only the bare, linear non-plot of the picaresque, its random escapades shaped solely by the southeastern direction the pair follows along the road. This road novel is stripped down into the form of a dire chronicle, antithetical to the comic pleasures of the road Auster writes in Mr. Vertigo. Like an almost infinite coordinate sentence, The Road follows an and-andand paratactic sequence of repetitive “event,” traveling from one horror to another, one day of finding the means to survive to the next, with a destination—the coast—that proves no meaningful destination at all because, once attained, it offers no improvement on the blighted natural landscape and social disintegration the pair has met all along the road. The historical vacuum in DeLillo’s novel, where event is dispersed into meaningless repetition, is fundamentally notional, a formal and metaphysical conceit, although his characters do undergo the condition psychologically. The environmental catastrophe of McCarthy’s novel has, by contrast, almost literally stopped time—all “the clocks stopped at 1:17” (McCarthy, The Road 52)—and obliterated history as a central human project and experience of measured, linear time, except insofar as the survivors retain pre-catastrophe memories. In The Road, time’s linearity divides only into a before and after. Before—America BC, so to speak—exists before the cataclysm, when human history embraced and demanded change as a central temporal artifact, an illusion of progressive development based on a post-Enlightenment, capitalist ethos of building, making, and consuming, and of individuals and nationstates competing for social, economic, and political power. After is a selfconsuming Cataclysmic Era, an America CE, a “present” comprising endless sameness and suffering, where the human has largely been converted into the inhuman, where competition for power aims solely at bare survival, represented by roving, violent bands of cannibals. In this new era, the “toxic event” of the natural catastrophe—whether caused by human agency, as in a nuclear holocaust, or by cosmic accident, as in a collision with an asteroid— is no longer an “event,” which implies the possibility of other distinct events to follow, but instead a perpetual condition: a lack of futurity.4 Within this

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time of no-time, McCarthy immediately places the father under a sign of hopeless terror. On the novel’s first page, the man awakes from a dream of being with the boy in a dark, wet, ageless cave where, across an “ancient lake” a grotesque “creature [. . .] with eyes dead white and sightless” crouches, in all its exposed creatureliness, before moaning and “lurch[ing] away [. . .] into the dark” (Road 3–4). This monster clearly signifies both the father’s anxiety and the deformed natural world they face. But I would suggest that its dead white, blind eyes also summon up the image in Faulkner’s Sanctuary (1931), mentioned in Chapter 1, of the blind old man with eyes “like two clots of phlegm” (Sanctuary 12)—the impotent, foul “patriarch” to whom Temple Drake vainly appeals when she is about to be raped, and who stands like her father, the Judge, for the defeat and exposure of the myth of patriarchal power—the law of the father in tatters. Even within this context, however, McCarthy’s father figure might at first seem diametrically opposed to Jack Gladney in practical capabilities, selfknowledge, and gravitas. He is desperately resourceful, birthing his son, fashioning a little stove out of parts, finding and devising shelters, food, and makeshift shoes, and keeping their trajectory true by the guidance of a shredded map of the terrain, road, and settlements that once existed. He strives to be “a good father,” devoting all his efforts to his son’s survival, knowing full well the truth of his wife’s judgment that “the boy was all that stood between him and death” even though he also believes of his efforts “that all of this was empty and no substance to it. There was a good chance they would die in the mountains and that would be that” (Road 29). Where Gladney sees his howling son as a signifier of suffering, McCarthy’s father attempts to comfort a son who genuinely suffers; the boy is starving, perpetually fearful, growing gaunt and ill. He operates as a signifier only for the reader, not his father, to whom the boy is the unmediated real. Yet the father on the road does not differ so much from Gladney as he first appears. Like Jack, he wields a pistol as a remnant of the technological power and phallic masculinity once associated with control in the lost society, though his conditions require him to be more adept in its use than Gladney. And like Jack, he deceives himself, and his son, that hope exists, that he can protect the boy in order to regain futurity by enabling a next generation. A common refrain in The Road is thus the “okay” that father and son repeat to each other, at times tonally implying ambivalence, but primarily serving as a litany of assent to human life and the humanity that, reinstalled, would restart history. Essential, however, is the difference between the father’s and son’s positions within the present. The father remembers America BC, even though he tries to shed some memories as useless burdens of a lost identity, such as when he discards the photograph of his wife, who committed suicide when she could no longer wait for the death that the post-cataclysmic conditions would inevitably bring. Because the boy is born after the world has burned, he knows nothing directly of the past; his knowledge and

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perception are only of the devastation directly around him. In this regard, Dominick LaCapra’s argument that “the distinction between absence and loss is significant and is related to a distinction between structural trauma and historical trauma” (“Reflections” 178) is salutary. Absence, LaCapra asserts, is “transhistorical”; it is “not an event,” implying no “tenses (past, present, or future).” By contrast, loss is constituted as a specific, historical, narratable event, such that “[s]omething of the past always remains, if only as a haunting presence” (179). By this account, the father abides within a traumatic state of loss, always provided by his memory of the past with images of other possible worlds to contrast to the destroyed world.5 The son knows only absence—of social bonds, of safety, of mercy, of natural and material plenty. And he knows it only because his father represents to him, especially in the illusions of hope he purveys, that since another existence was once possible, it might again be so. The father intuits the fundamental experiential difference between himself and his son, a child of this wretched new world to whom “he was himself an alien. A being from a planet that no longer existed” (153). He asks himself “How does the never to be differ from what never was?” (32); he thus eventually chooses, when his son “would ask him questions about the world that for him was not even a memory,” to “[stop] making things up.” To recognize that “There is no past” (53–54) might at first seem to accept the conversion of loss to absence. Yet the father resists in committing himself to the journey, signifying his attempt to repair his son’s experience of traumatic absence by seeking what only he can recognize as remnants of the lost natural world, or social organization, or ethical grounding to human behavior. Because the father experiences the post-catastrophe world as loss—and hence is irremediably nostalgic for the home that is no more—he remains committed to a genealogical imperative that McCarthy routinely telegraphs he can never fulfill. Before she kills herself, his wife argues that they are not truly survivors but rather “the walking dead in a horror film” (55) from which he can save neither his family nor himself. The father recognizes that her argument is unanswerable when, asserting that her “only hope is for eternal nothingness” (57), she observes that he strives to survive only on their behalf, not on his own. In his dogged effort to save his son within the ruined world, therefore, he must presume that he can bring the boy to a more hospitable condition, not only to extend his son’s life but also, by implication, to remake the world and breed the next generation. Why else make the boy suffer daily, simply for a longer period of time within devastating circumstances? From the wife’s perspective, the father’s quest is deluded and doomed, even, perhaps, as Adeline Johns-Putra argues, representing “a selfish, stubbornly masculinist mission to save something of himself” (532).6 If so, however counterintuitive it may seem, the quest might signal the father’s weakness every bit as much as his profound love and capacity for self-sacrifice. Indeed, the father demonstrates his impotence

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when he contemplates the supreme act he might be called upon to perform, were the cannibals to close in on them. His meditation evokes, by contrast, the impossible choice Toni Morrison’s Sethe makes in Beloved (1987), when she kills her baby to save her from slavery. “Can you do it?” the father asks himself; “Could you crush that beloved skull with a rock?” That McCarthy does not have him answer in the affirmative suggests that he would be unable to do so: “Is there such a being within you of which you know nothing? Can there be?” (Road 114). The unknown being within him, enabling him to perform the unspeakable but arguably merciful act of killing his son, would draw upon the capacity to exercise a masculinist will. Such an act could serve the symbolic law of the father, fulfilling the principle according to which one of the father’s duties is to protect the family’s sanctity, a principle made obsolete by the defunct social order and inhospitable natural environment following the catastrophe. McCarthy hints metaphorically at the lost force of a patrilineal ideology when the pair labor across a freezing, blackened, ash-and-snow-covered mountain in search of a pass to the other side. The father recognizes the site, an “empty parking lot at the overlook. [. . .] Where he’d stood once with his own father in a winter long ago”; he assures the boy, “It’s the gap. This is it” (33). With his memory of his own father’s presence to guide him, the father offers the gap as a promise of geographical progress to remedy loss, but in fact it signifies only futile forward movement. The literal gap may be topographical, and crossable, but it also implies the absence inserted during the man’s paternal tenure into the generative lineage from father to son. McCarthy has the father put his commitment to the patriarchal ethos in religious terms that summon an image of the transcendent God the Father when he tells his son that “My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you” (77). McCarthy’s religious allusions, including his metaphors of “anointing,” “chalice” (74– 75), and “tabernacle” (273), have incited much critical debate over whether the novel commits itself to the hope provided by faith or, to the contrary, exposes the folly of such faith. In support of the former reading, scholars cite such evidence as the boy’s Christlike innocence and mercifulness, the form of the novel as resembling parable or Biblical allegory, the parallels with Kierkegaard’s exploration of Abraham and Isaac in Fear and Trembling, and archival evidence that the earliest working title for the novel was “The Grail.”7 I will for the most part sidestep this debate, except to suggest that much of the evidence in favor of a religious or redemptive spiritual reading could as readily be put to ironic purpose. For example, one need not presuppose a God, or a Christ, in order to see a child’s innocence as a fact, vulnerable to change; an allusion to a grail or chalice or tabernacle or act of anointing might connote an unattainable fantasy and hollow metaphors; and the brutal tests of the father and the destruction of the world might bespeak the failure or indifference of God, if one were to grant that such a

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figure exists. Furthermore, the secular, human, materialist dimensions of the text are precisely where its tragedy and greatest feeling reside. For my purposes, what McCarthy brings to center stage is not whether the father’s hope is positively merited by some referential source for it, but rather that he puts his faith in a system of belief and practice—and being in the world, scripted by the fathers or Father—that brings him and his son no succor, an outcome sealed by the boy’s rejection of many such beliefs and practices. Nevertheless, as the father conceives his mission in both practical and ideological terms, McCarthy’s prose style underscores the man’s devotion to the pair’s survival. Often, in spare, objective, declarative sentences reminiscent of Hemingway,8 McCarthy details the father’s meticulous observations and actions, such as his description of starting a fire with the gasoline in his lighter, or his inventory of the few items remaining in his knapsack (72–73), or the long paragraph describing how he uncovers a buried cistern of water near an abandoned farmhouse, in one sample sentence of which the narrator describes how “He went back into the kitchen and got the broom and came out and swept the cover clean and set the broom in the corner and lifted the cover from the tank” (122). Not all the actions described are inherently meaningful, such as setting the broom in the corner, and yet the narration, which follows the father’s awareness in close third person and in a nonjudgmental sequence of unadorned coordinate clauses, operates as a testament to his obsessive, desperate, material care. The novel is full of such moments—apart from a few “action” sequences, largely of panic at the approach of and escape from “bad guys,” and the father’s brief, bittersweet memories, the narrative of The Road is filled with small, desperate gestures and sensory imagery placed against a landscape of unremitting dark, cold, fear, and hunger. Exceptions to the practical mode of narration appear when the man engages in his paternal mission through existential meditations and gestures he conceives abstractly. Having, for example, washed out of his son’s hair the brains of a man he is forced to shoot, asserting “That is my job,” he thinks, “Evoke the forms. Where you’ve nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them” (74). He clings to the notion that “the forms”—traditional manners and mores—are the only possible order to enable their survival, and in support of those forms, he tells his son “Old stories of courage and justice as he remembered them” (41). Likewise, he keeps his pistol close as his most prized possession. While it has a material function to ward off violent men, its existence as the iconic phallic tool in the defunct American imaginary carries an unavoidable signification: the pistol is the father’s only link to masculine power as defined within the lost cultural order. The moment is therefore ironic when, down to a single bullet, he “whittles fake bullets from a treebranch” (149) to fit into the gun’s chambers and give the illusion of a fully loaded firearm. His pretense stands for his deluded faith in an obsolescent technology to maintain for him a remnant of masculine power.

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He perpetuates with his son the futile conviction that this power is the key to recuperating the lost system of order when he asserts his authority by justifying their daunting efforts toward survival in terms of a masculinist ethos and the binary opposition of “good guys” and “bad guys”: “This is what the good guys do,” he tells the exhausted, fearful child; “They keep trying. They dont give up” (137). When the father discovers a miraculously stocked bunker, however, McCarthy demonstrates the gap widening between the generations when the boy questions the father’s illusions. As they explore the unimaginable stores, which the narrator names “The richness of a vanished world,” the boy asks, “Is it real?” Although the boy’s immediate meaning is simply that this vision of plenitude does not match his experience, the question for the father—who at once reassures him, “Oh yes. It’s real” (139)—carries deeper implications. In post-catastrophe America, such plenty is an unrepeatable aberration, and hence not truly real. Such “richness” deludes by carrying them some additional days, but it cannot change the course of their lives, because the world that produced it has vanished. Yet the father keeps the lie going that they are “Okay” (e.g., 193), despite the boy’s challenges to reassurances that “might not be true” (184). He does so, too, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. One example is the starving old man, Ely, whom the boy insists on aiding, and who in paradoxical statements articulates their existential dilemma—“Nobody wants to be here and nobody wants to leave” (169)—and undermines the possibility of faith—“There is no God and we are his prophets” (170). As Mangrum suggests, Ely “evokes the ancient Christian myth of the Wandering Jew” prophesying “the absence of God from the world” and exposing “the obscurity of the world rather than illuminating it” (284–85). Another example appears in the “charred ruins of a library where blackened books lay in pools of water,” where the father feels “rage at the lies arranged in their thousands row on row” (Road 187). These bloated, burnt books, now unreadable, contain the useless wisdom of intellectual forefathers whose knowledge and values are, in works of “literature, theology, and philosophy [, . . .] implicated in the destruction” (Mangrum 279), because the socioeconomic system they supported and advanced eventuated in environmental and social collapse. The father recognizes in this library the essential problem of lost futurity on which he has based the lies he tells the boy: “He’d not have thought the value of the smallest thing predicated on a world to come. [. . .] That the space which these things occupied was itself an expectation” (Road 187). As Mangrum points out, the pair’s “contingent existence is constituted by the very world that has destroyed itself, by the language that has made possible the conception and accomplishment of this destruction” (278). McCarthy’s devastating image of the ruined library thereby evokes another way in which The Road seems to turn White Noise inside out. If the

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discursive disjunctiveness of DeLillo’s novel derives from a postmodern crisis in which meaning has floated free within a proliferating world of signs and simulacra, McCarthy’s novel brings signs to the end of the road, as it were, through scarcity and erasure rather than self-canceling overabundance. Referentiality has been evacuated by a material apocalypse; language has run out of the things it refers to. The signifiers of the system in The Road, not excluding the Name-of-the-Father, have been permanently wrenched from their signifieds—not that the names no longer exist as such, but that the ideas they designate are severed from the signs because their presence and the context in which they mean and have value have evaporated. McCarthy offers numerous examples of the dying system of language. The father thinks explicitly about “The world shrinking down about a raw core of parsible entities. The names of things slowly following those things into oblivion. Colors. The names of birds. Things to eat. Finally the names of things one believed to be true. [. . .] The sacred idiom shorn of its referents and so of its reality” (Road 89).9 Even objects of former symbolic value are shorn of their meaning, as when the father abandons the “double handful of gold krugerrands” (142) he finds, because currency is valueless in this America. Or when he discovers a beautifully crafted, antique brass sextant—“the first thing he’d seen in a long time that stirred him” (228)—that he likewise leaves behind, because its capacity for and history of precise navigation emphasizes the futility of a world where there is nowhere to go. The communications between the father and son are determined—and tainted—by the hollowing out of the system of language: the historical, ideologically embedded language of their fathers. Their conversations are pared down to short, nearly monosyllabic sentences, in a relentlessly practical, nonfigurative vocabulary of the things available to their senses as well as immediate, factual, intimate concepts like death, or lying. The boy at one point catches the father in something like the Cretan paradox: Do you think I lie to you? No. But you think I might lie to you about dying. Yes. Okay. I might. But we’re not dying. Okay (101). He concedes the possibility that he would lie to protect his son from this most traumatic knowledge. Yet in order to offer comfort, the father at once denies his concession even though he is likely lying at this moment. The father’s move here would be conventional within the conditions of the lost world, in which a parent might reasonably soften a child’s knowledge, but here, the language of comfort occludes the reality of their circumstances and nearly dishonors the boy’s keen consciousness of that reality. The boy’s

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skepticism, just barely averted by the routinized chorus of “okays,” takes hold increasingly through the narrative, as if he sees through his father’s old lies to the demands of the new world that his father can neither accept nor describe. As Thomas Schaub notes, as the father’s death nears, “the boy himself questions the meaning of his father’s words, whether they be mere rhetoric without foundation or referent” (163). Like Jack Gladney’s children in White Noise, the boy thus distances himself from his father’s remaining authority and the stories of the past that support it. However much the child craves order—to locate “[t]hemselves among others,” his father infers, “everything in its place. Justified in the world” (Road 182)—he signals his rejection of the father’s discourse when he chooses at several points to dismiss material objects that refer to the past order to which his father binds himself. He throws away the flute, for example, that his father has carved for him (159), as if in recognition that the paraphernalia and beauty of “high” culture have no place in the devastated world. And he begs his father not to stay in a house they find, implying that he rejects the lie buried in any act they perform that might simulate a past domesticity he has never known and that he understands is irrecoverable (205). The phrase that is perhaps weightiest in the pair’s communication, however, is the repeated trope of “carrying the fire,” one of the few examples in which the father devotes himself in their conversations to figurative rather than literal meaning. Evocative, contradictory, and overdetermined, the metaphor’s meanings complicate the ethics of the man’s quest. The father uses this virtual mantra to reassure his son that a causal logic still exists among their ethics, identities, and futures: “nothing bad is going to happen to us [. . .] Because we’re carrying the fire” (83). McCarthy deliberately does not have the father define what he means by the metaphor of fire, but he does link it to moral or spiritual virtue when, insisting to his son that “we’re the good guys” (129), the man adds the phrase about carrying the fire as a kind of choric seal to his claim. McCarthy does not clarify whether the father believes in the trope he stresses; as Schaub notes, “the reader cannot shake the suspicion that the father’s repeated assertion [. . .] is a strategy rather than a belief, a recourse to religious language and forms in the absence of any foundation for them in the world” (161). Nevertheless, the man repeatedly emphasizes the metaphor as the logical, consoling answer when their lives and ethical standards are threatened. As Paul Patton suggests, the fire is for the father finally “a metaphor for some kind of moral order and as such the guarantee of a future humanity” (142). Yet the trope deconstructs itself in several ways. First, the father dismantles through his own behavior the binary opposition he insists on between “good guys” and “bad guys”—by his unwillingness, for example, to care for or share their meager stores with others, such as Ely or the solitary child whom the boy once spots. Even more disturbing is his excessively violent response to the starving man who steals the cart full of their supplies, and whom he

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abandons after, having recovered their possessions, he requires the man to strip naked. The father’s anger, immediately fueled by his fear that he and his son will perish without these provisions, grows to wrath both irrational and unethical when directed against a fellow human as deprived as they are; his vengeance, moreover, resembles the dehumanizing punishment that a privileged property-owner might mete out. The episode offers a critique of one law of the post-Enlightenment father, wherein property rights trump compassion. Second, in choosing the metaphor of fire, the man seems deaf to its ironic ambiguities. Fire since before Prometheus has, as the primal technology, signified the possibilities of human knowledge and power, connoting, too, the comforts of the domestic hearth to feed and warm the human—indeed, to maintain humanity. Yet all the evidence of environmental and social annihilation through which the pair passes shows itself as the work of fire. So what does it mean to carry the fire? Is it the spark of humanity? Or does it promise destruction—the flint that, in igniting the fuel of the lost system of belief and practice, inevitably touches off conflagration? Is the patriarchal paradigm for a genealogy of thought and action inescapable? For the father in The Road, the answer would seem to be Yes. He is cast adrift not only physically and emotionally by the cataclysm, but also intellectually. Patton contends that in the post-catastrophe world, McCarthy presents the father (and the reader) with what he calls “the hermeneutical sublime”: “the feeling produced in us by phenomena or events so foreign to our conceptual apparatus that we do not know how to describe them” (136). McCarthy’s “new” world represents sublimity in its darkest, foulest aspect, like the monster about whom the man dreams. The father is unable truly to comprehend the unprecedented change in the world order because it no longer matches his knowledge or is describable by his vocabulary, but he is also unable to adapt a new language to the new reality. Hence he feels only grief and despair, because his “conceptual apparatus” can imagine and confront these conditions solely in terms of loss. In the end, what is lost is the consoling order of the fathers before him. McCarthy’s fragmentary, choppy narrative includes in passing a brief but essential passage that penetrates to the heart of the problem The Road presents: “Do you think that your fathers are watching? That they weigh you in their ledgerbook? Against what? There is no book and your fathers are dead in the ground” (Road 196). Throughout, the narrative voice tends to conflate three perspectives—from the father, the narrator, and the author—especially at moments of reflection, aided by McCarthy’s refusal to use quotation marks to distinguish levels of the diegesis.10 This passage immediately prompts the question, Who speaks? Its address to some unidentified second person, the angry, agonized tone of reproach and despair implicit in the rhetorical questions that presume the answer that no fathers are watching, that no one weighs “you” in a ledgerbook, indeed, that there is no ledgerbook or divine accounting of one’s ethical behavior that will

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prescribe one’s final reward, because there is no divine presence—these sentences are spoken from a radically indeterminate position.11 Multiple voices are possible. The father, in the depths of despondency, may be lashing out at himself, addressed as an interior “you,” for retaining some wan hope in a transcendental structure, or perhaps at some projection of an external judge or interlocutor who retains faith, or even at his son who in his innocence might likewise trust in such a structure. Or it could be the closethird narrator, pulling back from his typical absorption within the father’s perspective to chide his protagonist for his self-delusions. Or it could be the narrator, or even the author himself, speaking to the “you” who is the reader, making a like accusation from an existential position, condemning our bad faith escape into belief in a structure that does not exist. The passage works on all these levels at once in order to come to its traumatic, nihilistic conclusion, which tellingly puts the fundamental absence in terms of the linguistic system rooted in the patriarchal cultural history of the Western world: no book, and the fathers are dead. No book remains, perhaps never was, no meaningful Bible, or old stories, and at any rate no useful language in which to signify the world as it is. And the mythic font of meaning and source of the Logos is gone from the earth forever. Although the terror provoked by the hostile environment and ruthlessly violent men is foremost in the father’s consciousness, not far behind, I suggest, is his anxiety over the lost structures of meaning that are inherently masculinist, though he does not think of them in such terms. In this sense, The Road, though projected into some undefined “future” America, is deeply historical—most broadly, as Naomi Morgenstern argues, in that it represents “patriarchy narrat[ing] its own death” in “an elegiac mode that serves [. . .] to reinforce its fantasy of immortality” (33).12 More concretely, the novel alludes to multiple points in US cultural history. McCarthy’s vision of a dismantled social order both returns to and inverts the pre-colonized wilderness memorialized in nineteenth-century American literature, with all its terrors for white settlers seeking their Manifest Destiny. Forcibly installing a Western set of values and expectations in the American frontier lands, the displaced Europeans set the stage for a post-Enlightenment capitalist ideology. With its faith in “progress” and dependence on the exercise of male violence, the ideology follows from and supports the myth of American exceptionalism—based, as John Cant summarizes, on “the pastoral conception of the New Adam” that found its way into Puritan ideology, on notions of the democratic republic, and on American imperialism (9). This myth originates within a patriarchal ideological system that presumes masculine power and privilege. Beginning with the symbolic figure of the “first” American—the New Adam—the myth, coded as masculine, appears within all these realms: religious (the Puritan Fathers), political (the Founding Fathers), and economic (ownership of property by men). And the myth did nothing to foreclose atrocity in the United States, most notably in the erasure

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of the indigenous populations and the fostering of slavery, to which McCarthy alludes several times: the father and son come across a militant group with “slaves in harness” (Road 92), for example; and they find an abandoned plantation house where “[c]hattel slaves had once trod [. . .] bearing food and drink on silver trays” (106). Such references imply, at least in passing, and with terrible irony, that the destruction of the land might by some measure be deemed an act of social justice against the exceptionalist myth. The subsequent formation of this myth emerged in the twentieth century as the American Dream, discussed in Chapter 1, and likewise based on a masculinist paradigm of making and providing, spending and reproducing, commerce and leisure. The material, economic failure of this formulation often appears in the novel figuratively, in the devastated houses, the jackknifed truck filled with human corpses (47), the abandoned docks at the coast (262), and the “boarded ruins of a seaside resort” (271). American history from the mid to late twentieth century and into the twenty-first in various ways destabilized the myth of male power underlying the exceptionalist ideology. First, the post-World War II economy altered men’s occupations and the uncontested position in the hierarchy of the family structure from which they pursued the American Dream through a bootstrap mentality and practical know-how. During the period following the Vietnam engagement, gender norms began to be fundamentally disrupted and the profound failure and futility caused by the vast expenditure of American lives and resources during a ferocious, indefensibly interventionist war caused a widespread loss of confidence in America as an idea and in the men who ruled the country. The Cold War, too—to which McCarthy alludes when the travelers come upon the bomb shelter—likewise shook confidence in the exceptionalist myth among Americans who discerned a political threat to their fundamental ideology. With the traumatic event and global political consequences of 9/11, the twenty-first century also brought apocalyptic fears back to a population that, after the fall of Communism, had grown complacent, inward, self-satisfied, and numb to the plight of others both within and beyond its borders. Though this actual US history does not appear explicitly anywhere in The Road, it lies as a subtext to the father’s anxieties in the novel and feeds McCarthy’s critique of American culture. As Susan Kollin points out, even McCarthy’s choice of genre for his dystopian narrative—the road novel— registers his insight into the reactionary responses of late-twentieth-century American manhood to men’s loss of ground. Noting that the road novel is typically viewed as an escape fantasy for males, Kollin diagnoses the genre’s “male hysteria” in response to “the decentering of male power” during the rise of feminism “and the new gender formations of the post-Vietnam War era” (169) that laid to rest the masculine paradigm dominating the culture for decades.13 The period turned the American Dream into the American man’s nightmare.

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Although McCarthy is routinely critical of the myth of American exceptionalism, as Cant argues throughout his study of McCarthy’s career, his protagonist’s nostalgic yearning in The Road for the forms, understandings, and genealogical narrative warranted within the bygone patriarchal system complicates the novel’s critique. Most notably, in shifting The Road’s focus almost entirely away from climate change as a global, ecological, nonanthropocentric crisis demanding both a writer’s and reader’s urgent attention, the father, in his single-minded concern, grasps at the values that brought the crisis in the first place.14 Indeed, this focus makes for an ending that in its final action, combined with its poetic closing images, deflects the novel’s most compelling propositions. Readers who foreground the novel’s spiritual allusions may be gratified by the redemptive ending, in which, after the father dies, the deus ex machina of a new father figure takes the boy into a new family. It is as if the boy’s capacity to renounce his father’s anachronistic vision and to maintain, despite all their travail, the selfless virtues of kindness and compassion has earned him a future. The recovery of futurity is of course all that his father has wished for his son, but it is not through the man’s efforts that the boy attains this end, except insofar as the father has randomly walked his son to a place where the boy happens to be found. A spiritual reading would cast this mysterious fulfillment of hope as a transcendent repudiation of the novel’s repeated skepticism about the existence of a God—by this token, coincidence may act as a sign of grace. If, however, one foregrounds the realism of accident and blind contingency and the fatalism that the wrecked natural world and savage human response evoke on almost every page of the novel, the appearance of the generousspirited man in the parka, with his welcoming wife and two children, strains credulity. On the road, where everyone who is not a cannibal shrinks from others and takes as a primary duty the husbanding of their meager stores, how is it that a family is not only intact and available but also willing to feed another mouth? And how fortunate it is that this new Holy Family has a daughter as well as a son, so that, in time, should they survive, the boy might begin a new lineage and fashion a new world order on a Christian model of mercy and humility. To be fair, this reading is pure speculation—McCarthy’s language offers no hint of the possibility of procreation and re-creation— and yet the narrative indisputably fashions a nuclear family on the old American model to receive the lost boy. The father figure, a hypermasculine type, recalls the intrepid pioneers of the past, as a “veteran of old skirmishes” who “carried a shotgun upside down over his shoulder on a braided leather lanyard and [. . .] wore a nylon bandolier filled with shells for the gun” (Road 281). The mother, who embraces the boy with a welcoming maternal warmth, reenacts the complementary, traditional feminine duty, like the Victorian Angel in the House, to maintain and teach faith within the family circle, and she does so in Biblical rhythms: “She would talk to him sometimes

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about God. [. . .] She said that the breath of God was his breath yet though it pass from man to man through all of time” (286). However deeply moving is the tone McCarthy adopts in the final paragraphs, it is also arguably sentimental in that he sacrifices to feeling the austere intellectual conclusions toward which the novel seems inevitably drawn. If the boy has no memory of the past of America BC, what he does remember is the time he has spent with his father, so the narrative concludes in a personal, familial redemption, not social repair or revision—nor, for that matter, does it accept that the only memories possible in this new world record pain and privation. Taking his tearful leave of his dead father’s body, the son whispers, “I’ll talk to you every day [. . .] And I wont forget. No matter what” (286). The boy’s vow, expressing deep filial love, also, ironically, pledges him to a past shaped by the father who is irreconcilably unsuited to this new world. It is as if the boy has forgotten his own conclusion regarding his father’s stories, when he leveled the accusation that “Those stories are not true” (268). McCarthy tries to have it both ways, to leave the potential for a spiritual reading open, if in doubt. The narrator recounts that the boy, introduced by the woman to the ultimate Name-of-the-Father, “tried to talk to God but the best thing was to talk to his father and he did talk to him and he didnt forget” (286). God has perhaps been demoted, as it were, to second place, by the expression of human feeling and intimate connection. And yet the final paragraph of the novel, a memory of beautiful brook trout—but whose memory? the narrator’s? the dead father’s? McCarthy’s?— offers a metaphoric confirmation of the human capacity to experience the lost world with awe.15 Although the memory is “[o]f a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again” (287), the closing appeals both to our affective responses and our inklings of or desire for transcendence. By redeploying the old language of beauty, McCarthy’s imagery recuperates the gift of human awareness as a sponsor of the good, or, perhaps, beneficiary of the Good.16 The narrator’s address, again to an indeterminate “you,” takes the form of sonorous poetry: the trout stand “in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow,” the patterns on their backs “were maps of the world in its becoming,” and “they hummed of mystery.” As the last word of the novel, “mystery” undercuts the Beckett-like void of “[d]arkness implacable” (130), the absence that McCarthy has devoted almost all of the novel to describing—a blasted land, populated by survivors competing under the cruelest possible Darwinian natural law, with no hope of recovery or transcendence or resumption of the genealogical imperative. Instead, The Road jolts the reader with an unmotivated consolation, like the light the father seems to see around his son, who “look[s] back at him from some unimaginable future, glowing in that waste like a tabernacle” (273)—a light that seems to illumine the potential for a world to reemerge, not unlike the world of the dead fathers. The imagery is in keeping not with existential Beckett, or even with the obvious allusions to T. S. Eliot’s

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“Waste Land,” but rather with the vision the post-conversion Eliot found in the “moment in the rose-garden” in “Burnt Norton” that can be remembered “only in time” (Eliot 16). Despite itself, the novel insists on futurity, if only through the backward glance of the words—and ideas, and world-images, and old lies—of the fathers.

7 The Father in the Apocalyptic Imagination—Part Two: Politics and 9/11

Perhaps the most disturbing images of environmental devastation and its consequences are the toxic cloud in White Noise and, among all too numerous possibilities, incinerated corpses and cannibalized human bones in The Road. By contrast, the most uncanny image Philip Roth provides in The Plot Against America (2004) is Alvin Roth’s amputated stump. Marking the trauma that historically motivated violence—in this case, during World War II—places upon the body, the stump that remains of Alvin’s leg offers Roth a figurative starting point to examine the havoc that large-scale events wreak in human lives. Unlike DeLillo and McCarthy, Roth explores in this image of lack not environmental catastrophe but the American national subject traumatized by human actions that fundamentally disrupt society. Roth’s central character Philip’s view of the uncanny stump figures the harm to him of historical events and his father’s inability to maintain the law signifying phallic authority over the social order. Jonathan Safran Foer in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005) is, as David Brauner notes, interested less in the lineaments of a specific historical trauma than in how it imposes on “the consciousness and conscience” of an individual, especially his “subjecthood, and subjectivity” (Philip Roth 201). These two novels explore the consequences of national injury and shock on the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, framing the plots within the sentimental tragedies and melodramas of children whose fathers are unable to protect them from harm. Roth and Foer focalize their exploration of historical trauma within the innocent narrative perspective of children, whose responses remain uncensored by familiarity with suffering or the mature practices of self-suppression. Claire Messud in The Emperor’s Children (2006), however, approaches the question from a reversed temporal scheme, and as if from the other end of the 171

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telescope. Writing a comedy of manners, she portrays the foibles of entitled, immature adult children, like their arrogantly misguided father figure, stumbling blindly and narcissistically toward the apocalypse, figured as the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. All consumed with their subjecthood, Messud’s characters tend to demonstrate anything but consciousness or conscience. Her satire addresses the degree to which the characters’ inflated sense of their personal anxieties diminishes the tragedy, along with its ethical and political reverberations, happening just outside their New York windows—and by extension in the nation as a whole. Published within two years of one another, the three novels followed hard upon the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001 in the United States, to which they allude either as initiating incident, in Foer’s case, by indirection and analogue, in Roth’s, or as climactic narrative complication, in Messud’s. The confluences among the novels’ implicit and explicit representations of national trauma suggest how, together, they might raise the question of what traumatic history means in America. Yet, as Brauner suggests about Roth and Foer, all three “engage with the political realities of the attack on the World Trade Center and its aftermath only obliquely” (214). Rachel Sykes argues along similar lines that Foer and Messud fail “to interrogate the idea of September 11, 2001 on a national or international scale,” their narratives “restrict[ing] the point of view to the warring white middle-class family,” thereby “reflect[ing] a dominant form of realism that pre-dates the terrorist attacks” (249). Like White Noise and The Road in contemplating environmental catastrophe, when these novels inquire into how American fiction might represent traumatic history, in the end they as often deflect as answer the question.1 Both Roth’s and Foer’s novels interweave a terrifying version of the midtwentieth century European theater of war into their narrative premises about American history. The specter of an attack against the United States, diabolically using its own instruments of commerce, politics, leisure, or media, affords a rare opportunity to conceptualize traumatic action as happening queasily both within and beyond the borders of self and nation. Foer’s chapters interlace the narrative perspectives of three traumatized characters—the child Oskar Schell, whose father dies in one of the Twin Towers, and his paternal grandparents, who were devastated by the firebombing of Dresden during World War II. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close thus urges contextualization of the historical trauma of early twentyfirst century Americans within that of 1940s German noncombatants, making of “history” a multiple reckoning, temporally and geographically, but always on the intimate scale of a family’s distresses. The historical doubling is differently conceived in The Plot Against America. Roth’s dystopic counterhistory imagines a United States growing increasingly fascist and antisemitic under the presidency of an isolationist Charles Lindbergh. In the resonance of The Plot’s plot with the persecution and annihilation of Europe’s Jews, Roth pursues the question “what if the United

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States had been like Europe?” by testing the counterhistory within the lives of a fictive “Roth” family that bears significant connections to his autobiographical family, in both name and characterization. The Plot plays always in tension with a reader’s awareness in two dimensions: with inklings of the historical Roth family; and with memories of the history that really happened, which remains unnarrated except insofar as the novel ends by reinserting its two years of invented events back into the known past and includes an extensive postscript of Roth’s research and documentation. Roth has insisted that his novel is not an allegory for the events and political aftermath of 9/11.2 It need not be overtly about 9/11 for its meanings to be inflected by that recent historical fact, however. The shock of direct assault within the borders of the United States, unfelt since Pearl Harbor, deepens the power of The Plot and enables its reading as an uncannily displaced response to an all-too recent past. In this regard, Charles Lewis offers succinct distinctions between “the claim that a novel is ‘about’ 9/11, the proposition that a novel has been influenced by 9/11, and the observation that readers might be interested in a novel because of 9/11” (249). Since Roth’s novel falls between the second and third possibilities, it seems useful to read through the palimpsest of its representation of the years 1940 to 1942 a figuration of the trauma of 2001. Like Foer, Messud includes the events of September 11, 2001, as an overt catastrophe intervening in her characters’ lives, but unlike him, she places the event late in the narrative, about seventy pages before the end of a 480-page novel. In making 9/11 the narrative destination, Messud emphasizes the narcissism and obliviousness of her cast of privileged, socialclimbing characters, especially unmasking her central fatherly figure, the journalist and public intellectual Murray Thwaite. Messud is sensitive in her representation of the traumatic experience of 9/11 for many New Yorkers. Her placement of the event, however, in the midst of her exploration of the interiority of her cast—Murray, his teenage nephew, his thirty-year-old daughter, and her two college friends, among whose perspectives the thirdperson focalized narration circulates—nearly flattens the historical event into an allegory for the self-satisfaction and petty anxieties of privileged white Americans in need of being awakened from their narrow self-regard. While for the three novels the traumatic disruption of American complacencies could potentially resituate the United States and its citizens’ awareness within a transnational context, their thrust is not to pull American history into a global network of meanings. As Rachel Greenwald Smith argues about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the novels’ representation of trauma “leads to a reading of the event that is compatible only with a highly limited historical outlook, one that sees the events of 9/11 as isolated from any larger geopolitical frame” (“Shrapnel” 157). Specifically, while Roth’s and Foer’s novels develop a counternarrative that dramatizes and displaces trauma toward the past—whether a wholly invented or plausibly

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“factual” past—and Messud’s toward an unnarrated future, all prompt historical reflection to give way to the insular needs of wounded subjects within their present moment of suffering. The three novels depict this consequence in surprisingly similar terms. Despite fundamental differences in the narration,3 they share important structures and motifs, including a focus on precocious, narcissistic children’s consciousnesses and exploration of their relationships to fathers for whom events subvert or expose as empty the phallic power of the patriarch. Roth and Foer’s novels also share the cultivation of surrogate father figures, chartings of the boy’s solo quests through his city, a redemptive but sentimental narrative arc, and even a stamp collection. Together, these emphases move the novels inward rather than toward the historical world. Each finally reduces historical rupture to personal rupture, the transnational to the domestic, the social to the familial.

Philip Roth’s Orphans—The Plot Against America To a young child, the apocalypse may come wrapped in a rather small package. It may consist of no more than the moment when the known order of the child’s world collapses and the sturdy framing adults or principles of the child’s life no longer seem so sturdy. For the innocent child “Philip Roth” in The Plot Against America, the first indisputable sign of the looming political apocalypse appears when the “plot” against America causes his fall into knowledge of frailty, in an event Roth snugly juxtaposes to an oft-cited summary of the novel’s thematic core. When Herman Roth returns from visiting his nephew, Alvin, in the Canadian hospital where he is recovering from his amputation, Herman bursts into tears. “It was the first time I saw my father cry,” writes the adult Philip:4 A new life began for me. I’d watched my father fall apart, and I would never return to the same childhood. [. . .] And as Lindbergh’s election couldn’t have made clearer to me, the unfolding of the unforeseen was everything. Turned wrong way round, the relentless unforeseen was what we schoolchildren studied as “History,” harmless history, where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page as inevitable. The terror of the unforeseen is what the science of history hides, turning a disaster into an epic (Roth, Plot 113–14). When Philip witnesses the crack in his father’s stoical, high-minded performance of fatherhood, his childhood as he has known it disappears. Roth links this discovery as if causally to the child’s implicit realization that

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he is embedded in a temporal world of action that is unpredictable except within the illusion of order provided by retrospective storytelling. He is protected only by the “science of history,” whose narratives, especially those constructed however unwittingly according to the national interest, neutralize events for public consumption. As Ross Posnock handily puts it, “Philip comes to grasp that history is an ambush, and that this is an inadmissible truth in a country dedicated to mastery” (28). In just a few sentences, then, Roth lays out his entire plan. The reader sees the “plot” of his young narrator’s life on its trajectory toward terror—the “fear” that is the first word of the novel, which “presides” over the rest of the novel (1). Roth forecasts the larger plot of his narrative, which constructs an epic of a speculative American political disaster. The passage also gestures toward the principles of the novel’s form, which craft the unforeseen so as to seem inevitable. Finally, the juxtaposition of the narrator’s abstract, thematizing discourse to the event of Herman’s tears suggests how, for the child, fear and the perception of national catastrophe bear an inextricable relationship to the father figure who, in turn, signals the disintegration of the liberal American social order. When Roth focuses the novel wholly on the “Roth” family and its material, psychological, and social embedding within his detailed counterhistory of the period from June 1940 to October 1942, the figure who looms largest beyond the boy Philip is Herman Roth. In Roth’s presentation of Herman, the father figure inscribes an allegory of sorts, standing for the mythic protections of the US patriarchal system as it was interwoven with the mid-century values and ideals of the US nation-state— inflected especially with the ideologies of American exceptionalism, the democratic ideal, and the liberal subject.5 Roth draws on the classic iconography of these values when the Roth family visits the Lincoln Memorial, where the seven-year-old Philip looks in awe at “the raised statue of Lincoln in his capacious throne of thrones, the sculpted face looking to me like the most hallowed possible amalgamation—the face of God and the face of America all in one” (63). To the child, the figure of his confident, feisty father is the earthly avatar of the Memorial’s conflated image of the divine and the national. Therefore, when Herman fails in his role as a fatherly protector, his characterization signifies not only a personal but also a national failure, a plunge from the stately throne of Lincoln’s rectitude and compassion. Contrarily, when Herman demonstrates strength and probity, Roth puts the gleam back on the promise of America to right its own history.6 Roth’s narrative careens between these poles in representing the father as the national crisis draws ever closer to threaten the lives of the Roth family and their Jewish community in the Weequahic neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey. Much of the drama of the novel from the boy’s point of view concerns how the agents of Lindbergh’s dystopic America strip his father of

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authority and the capacity to act. But Roth reverses Herman’s downward trajectory in a compensatory heroic act placed in the position of a narrative climax and conclusion, when he rescues the newly orphaned Seldon Wishnow from the antisemitic riots in Kentucky that killed his mother. Herman’s bravery does not register as fully climactic, however. The somewhat moderated, condensed narration of his victory is a function of the novel’s re-fitting into actual US history at its close, the counterhistory corrected, which Roth performs by rejiggering historically “real” and wholly imagined characters. Herman’s courageous quest into the heart of rural America’s antisemitic darkness—his “Guadalcanal, [. . .] his Battle of the Bulge” (Plot 355)—appears in the novel’s final pages as nearly a passing footnote to the vast narrative maneuverings by which Roth averts a war with Canada and puts Roosevelt back in the White House. Roth’s concluding episode, however, which brings the abstract counterhistory back into intimate scale, also enables a deeply sentimental retreat from his apocalyptic vision. As Timothy Parrish suggests, The Plot Against America does not “portray catastrophe [. . .] because it cannot imagine it as a possibility of American history” (“Autobiography” 159). No more can it quite imagine the possibility of the father’s irredeemable failure. Roth’s sentimentality may be in part an artifact of his choice to write his “what if” narrative as a projection of his own family, under their real names, testing their known traits in the crucible of his manufactured incidents. The figure of Herman Roth is thus in a sense overdetermined by Roth’s extratextual and elsewhere textualized experiences of his own father, including the varied portraits of fathers that I review in Chapter 3. Herman recalls both the hectoring, bull-headed fathers of the Zuckerman Bound years and the wry, loving, disciplined, and deeply responsible fathers presented in the nonfiction, displaying the male stolidity that is most concretely and affectionately evident when Roth writes the type of the “Herman Roth” father—a type appearing especially in the later novels which, as Andrew S. Gross argues, “explore the limits of the Oedipal rebellions [. . .] that were his earlier mainstays” (419). As Elaine Kauvar intriguingly suggests, The Plot Against America “belongs to Roth’s own memoirs” (133).7 As such, the Herman Roth who emerges from memory and fantasy curiously combines the mythic and the real—much, in fact, as a boy might see his father in such contradictory terms. Indeed, the unique nature of Roth’s purported source material lays bare certain features of the father/son relationship that might not rise to the surface so readily in fiction whose origins are less apparently traceable. As for John Irving and Paul Auster, it is possible to claim about Roth as Kauvar does that “Everywhere on the pages of Philip Roth’s work is the figure of the father” (139).8 Yet although Roth names the father in The Plot Against America “Herman Roth,” Herman remains a work of fiction. This is the case despite the evidence Roth supplies extratextually in The Facts (1988) and

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Patrimony of characteristics that are coextensive between Philip’s father and Roth’s. Without making a case for one-to-one correspondences between the Herman in the text and the Herman in Roth’s memories, however, what matters is how Herman is a joint project—and projection—of Roth, of the retrospective adult narrator, Philip, and of the youthful self he narrates in the novel’s historical present, the child Philip between the ages of seven and nine.9 By making Herman a contradictory figure of myth and memory, Roth’s choice of his own family as the test case for how a Holocaust-like history might have entered the United States emphasizes how the family romance works in the fantasy life of a child. When Freud wrote about the family romance, as discussed in Chapter 2, he theorized that a child may fantasize a replacement family having apprehended the socioeconomic deficiencies of his own. This model of fantasy readily explains a child’s responses to other deficiencies in the family as well. In The Plot Against America, Philip does not technically fantasize an alternative family—in fact, because the foil family with whom Roth presents him, the Wishnow neighbors, are far more impotent than his own, he fervently rejects them. Yet Roth inscribes the family romance in two ways— by a fantasy according to which Philip has no family; and by creating a textual “Herman Roth.” The Herman who appears in the narrator’s memory is configured to suggest at once the “real” and the imagined alternative. Herman is a “factual” extrapolation of Roth’s historical father, mixing the man who raised Roth with the “facts” created for him by the speculative counterhistory of antisemitism under President Lindbergh. But in keeping with the fictive premise of an unreliable child narrator channeled by an adult speaker, Herman is also a fantasy projection of the young Philip’s yearning for a father who can protect him from the terror of the unforeseen. The Herman in the text occupies a dual, contradictory position: he is the father made impotent by forces beyond him but also a savior figure, a fantasy to dispel the child’s “perpetual fear.” The contradictions within Roth’s portrayal of the seemingly “realistic” Herman Roth underscore the contradictions of the novel as a whole. Dizzyingly, Roth designs the uneasy (or perhaps too easy) narrative resolution in order to turn real history— what resumes in 1942, with Lindbergh’s disappearance and Roosevelt’s return to the White House—paradoxically into a fantasy that redeems the American dystopia from its fictive apocalypse, making the United States once again a “homeland” (Plot 5).10 The details the narrator ascribes to Herman thus support seeing within his character the psychological workings of a family romance tuned to the dominant fiction of paternal masculinity. Herman is, for example, “always teeming with energy even when there was nothing to do” (60). He is blunt and decisive. When a series of events during their Washington, DC vacation leaves the family feeling “expelled” from “the American Garden of Eden” (66)—a stranger at the Lincoln memorial calls Herman a “ ‘loudmouth Jew’ ”

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(65), an insult repeated elsewhere (78), and the family is evicted from their hotel apparently simply for being Jewish—he retains his convictions and resilience. He is, the narrator observes, “born to contend but also to protect” (123). But the child Philip hears views competing with his father’s, such as those of his coarse, prosperous Uncle Monty, of Rabbi Bengelsdorf, who becomes a Lindbergh collaborator, and of his older brother, Sandy, as Sandy is drawn into the Lindbergh plot to erase Jewishness in America. The boy then grows doubtful: “I began to wonder if my father knew what he was talking about” (125). Philip’s anxieties about his father’s authority are profoundly exposed when, in his childish confusion at the suicide of Seldon Wishnow’s terminally ill father, he imagines that “my father had committed suicide” because of “what Lindbergh had done to our family” (169, italics in original). After experiencing the fantasized, symbolic death of his father, Philip’s observations of Herman’s growing impotence mount. He thinks to himself that “I didn’t know any longer what the law was and so I didn’t know what might or might not be against it” (171)—the father as purveyor of the law seems no longer reliable to him. Although his father, as the adult Philip summarizes him, had only his “[a]rdor [. . .] to go on,” supporting his “vigilant, programmatic industriousness” (202), he also falls away from his heartfelt code against physical force and corporal punishment; angry with Philip for a childish misdemeanor, he slaps him. Philip thereafter finds himself “[u]nable any longer to witness the spectacle of my father’s defenselessness” (208), concluding that “my father’s authority as a protector had been drastically compromised if not destroyed” (209). Events conspire to puncture the father fantasy. According to the uncanny image that dominates the narrative, the loss of the father’s omnipotence is what the traumatized boy most fears from the “vengeful fury of the missing leg” (133).11 Herman reaches his nadir in Philip’s eyes during the “battle royal” (293) scene when Alvin, accompanied by a “browbeaten” (288) fiancée and an expensive car, the rewards of his retreat from fervent liberalism to shady capitalism, joins the Roth family for dinner and overtly expresses that vengeful fury. Alvin is Herman’s “beloved older brother’s fatherless son” (294), an orphan tending to delinquency whom Herman brings into his home, determining to raise him right. Alvin’s argument with Herman at the reunion dinner thus begins in an “innate antipathy” exacerbated by his “memory of [Herman’s] reforming instincts” (291). The conflict develops into a fistfight that introduces a pulsing repetition of the word “blood” into the narrator’s description—blood “spattered,” “dripping,” and “smeared” (295) over the rug, the splintered coffee table, and both men. The image figures the blood of their familial connection but also the violence lurking like an oedipal time bomb within their strained, surrogate father/son relationship. Philip approvingly observes in the “explosive strength” of his father’s “powerful” body a “full-fledged force of nature,” but when Herman breaks the Jewish “taboo [. . .] against settling disputes by force” (294),

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Philip confronts a terrible truth: “Before that night, I’d had no idea my father was so well suited for wreaking havoc or equipped to make that lightning-quick transformation from sanity to lunacy that is indispensable in enacting the unbridled urge to destroy” (293). So far from protecting the family, Herman shatters it like “the glass-topped coffee table” that now “lay in fragments all across the room” (296). Roth draws the parallel between the family and the nation by narrative juxtaposition when, on that very night, chaos breaks out on the streets of Weequahic. Herman accepts a pistol from his neighbor, signifying how aware he has become of his own impotence and how conditions have made him contemplate committing previously unthinkable acts. Roth’s careerlong psychoanalytic proclivities suggest that one cannot ignore the pistol’s phallic reference; it is a fetish object to supplement Herman’s impotence, much like the pistols appearing in White Noise and The Road. Roth writes this episode as the climax of violence, personal and communal, as well as the turning point in the narrative, concluding the section with the declaration that “The nightmare was over. Lindbergh was gone.” He then goes on to make the child’s conflation of familial and national order explicit: “we were safe, though never would I be able to revive that unfazed sense of security first fostered in a little child by a big, protective republic and his ferociously responsible parents” (301). Philip’s realization that his father’s personal code—like the law he represents—disintegrates under the threat of catastrophe causes him to pursue a fantasy of escape. He does not replace the family with another, according to the conventions of the family romance, but rather rewrites a safer future for himself by eliminating family altogether in favor of kinless anonymity. Rather than seeking a surrogate father, Philip seems to have concluded that no father can protect him. He therefore indulges the fantasy of being an orphan, as if namelessness, homelessness, and lack of origins might harbor him from violence directed at those with social identities. “I wanted nothing to do with history,” the adult Philip reports. “I wanted to be a boy on the smallest scale possible. I wanted to be an orphan” (233).12 Shortly after seeing his father cry, Philip begins to imagine himself as an orphan, pretending during his “following Christians” expeditions with Earl Axman on the buses of Newark that “I was lost, a lost boy” (116). He thereafter actively practices his fantasized identity by claiming to be an orphan from a nearby Catholic orphanage in order to talk his way into a movie theater unaccompanied by an adult, having forged a note from a nun—in a “delinquent” “masquerad[e]” (198, 199) that arouses his father in desperation to break his code for the first time by hitting his son. The shape the orphan fantasy takes thereafter uncovers Philip’s unconscious identification with Seldon Wishnow, the pallid, lonely, brainy, fatherless neighbor boy who is his textual double. Seldon’s father, in his cancer and suicide, likewise doubles Herman by embodying the failure to maintain the phallic power of the patriarch, a failure that is exacerbated

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when the orphaned son to his horror discovers his father’s corpse. Because Philip, in his child’s narcissism, sees Seldon not empathetically but as a terrifying enactment of his own feared abjection, he develops an increasing aversion to this real “lost boy.” When Philip conspires to have Seldon and his mother instead of the Roth family relocated to Kentucky, according to the national programs increasingly hostile to Jews, he temporarily satisfies his desire to make the child’s threat to his consciousness and self-concept disappear. But not before Philip enacts the very similitude to Seldon that so terrifies him. Preparing to run away from home, Philip steals Seldon’s clothing, as if literally planning to don Seldon’s identity as an orphan. At the height of the violence in Weequahic, he imagines applying for a job at a local pretzel factory as an orphaned deaf-mute, with a note signed with Seldon’s name: “I couldn’t for the life of me think of another name” (349). He recounts his plan to escape thereafter to Boys Town in Omaha, a haven for orphans that he has seen in the movies, where he might take shelter under the wing of Father Flanagan, “father to all of them” (349). When Philip envisions that in Boys Town he might shed his identity as a Jew and become “nothing and nobody—just a body and nothing more,” he devises a new name for himself as “Philip Flanagan” (349), completing the fantasy of the family romance by adopting the mythologized father as his own, with the bonus of thereby becoming a non-Jew—seeking an impossibly idealized father whom he knows only within the fabrication of Spencer Tracy’s performance. During the scene in which Philip actually enacts running away, Roth emphasizes the figurative import of the boy’s fantasized identity by having him escape onto the grounds of the Catholic orphanage. The novel, however, dispels the possibility of reinventing one’s identity, refuting yet another mythic American promise. Earlier, suffering from a fever, Philip has a precognitive nightmare in which he is “enveloped by kaleidoscopic hallucinations of the orphanage workhorses pursuing me to the edge of the earth” (172). The nightmare is as it were brought to narrative consciousness, like the latent content of a dream made manifest, on the night Philip runs away, only to be kicked in the head by a horse he has startled. He has no success in erasing his identity into that of an orphan, nor can he make the orphan—or, more broadly, all the fear of unforeseen catastrophe such a figure portends— disappear into an anonymous world. The boy’s desire for escape brings only retribution, precisely from the source that, he anticipates, promises his salvation. Philip’s effort to fulfill the family romance reenacts just the precipitating cause: his disappointment in the failure of the father’s authority. That it is Seldon who, sneaking out of bed to follow Philip, prevents him from bleeding to death—“Seldon Wishnow saved my life” (234)—seals the doubling connection between them. Philip cannot make Seldon Wishnow disappear from his consciousness. Seldon embodies Philip’s own abjection and that of his father. Notably, Philip considers Seldon an orphan once he becomes fatherless, before his mother dies. Implicitly, then, it is the father

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alone who determines the conditions of orphanhood within Philip’s construction of identity according to the dominant fiction. The narrator thus depicts an anguished Herman “see[ing] himself with mortifying clarity: a devoted father of titanic energy no more capable of protecting his family from harm than was Mr. Wishnow hanging dead in the closet” (226). Seldon reflects Philip’s worst fears, shadowing him with the threat of trauma, chaos, and death. Seldon is to Philip like an extra, phantom limb—a relationship Roth makes explicit in the final line of the novel when the narrator describes Seldon by foregrounding one of Roth’s metaphoric motifs: “The boy himself was the stump, and [. . .] I was the prosthesis” (362).13 Seldon is inescapable but not identical to Philip, however, if only because Philip’s family rights itself while Seldon’s does not. This difference makes for the crucial turn in the narrative, a turn that undermines the novel’s postpatriarchal critique. When Seldon is truly orphaned, his mother slaughtered in the Kentucky pogrom sparked by Lindbergh’s policies, Herman regains his position as the symbolic Father, restoring order by his rescue of the wholly traumatized child. Physically battered after his fight with Alvin, Herman makes the dangerous fifteen-hundred-mile round trip from Newark across hostile Gentile America to retrieve the boy, his car breaking down “on six separate occasions in little over a day” (356) while Seldon grows ever more delirious. Herman is thus rehabilitated as a hero—although, as I have suggested, the heroic narrative, which occupies just a few pages very close to the end of the novel, seems somewhat hasty and foreshortened. Even more significant is that when the narrator remarks that “My father was a rescuer and orphans were his specialty” (358), the novel elides the potential irony of the statement. Herman does save Seldon from irreversible trauma—suffering, by the way, caused by Philip’s original sin of requesting that the Wishnows be sent to Kentucky in the Roths’ place—but he utterly fails to rescue the first orphan he attempts to save, his nephew Alvin. Since Roth is usually highly attuned to irony, it is surprising that The Plot Against America seems as it concludes to register no skeptical distance on Herman’s renewal. The statement about Herman’s special capacity is, rather, aglow with the narrator’s affection for Philip’s father’s character—which at this point may seem indistinguishable from Roth’s affection for the historical Herman Roth. Herman’s heroism erases and corrects for all the weakness and error that dominates his narrative up to this point. This image appears to emerge from Roth’s unmixed tenderness and nostalgia for the father he knew and portrayed most poignantly in Patrimony; as Kauvar suggests, “Roth discloses his unconscious desire to resurrect the father in whose arms he had been so safe and to conquer the guilt aroused by having outdistanced him” (141). The result is that the simultaneously real and fictive Herman Roth—his values, his stoic strength, his faith in the possibilities of the American experiment—seems finally to have averted familial catastrophe for his fictional son and, for his fleshly, extradiegetic son, the capacity to

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fully imagine a national apocalypse. The novel marks loss but devises a wholeness to mend it, offering a palliative for national trauma and ensuring that “perpetual fear” (1) is, finally, not perpetual. If Roth has Fiorello La Guardia allude to Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here (1935) by asserting that “ ‘it is happening here’ ” (305, italics in original), he nevertheless turns the sentiment on its head, effectively stripping Lewis of his satire. Indeed, it can’t happen here, it seems—because of fathers like Herman Roth.

Jonathan Safran Foer and the Fathers’ Fall— Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Among Roth’s more curious moves toward the end of The Plot Against America is how he designs the narrative so that Philip’s maternal Aunt Evelyn, the increasingly hysterical wife of the Lindbergh collaborator Rabbi Bengelsdorf, offers the final speculative interpretation of Lindbergh’s disappearance, based on an alleged confidence conveyed to her by Lindbergh’s wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh. In brief, the explanation Evelyn conveys, which is from the narrator’s perspective the “most unbelievable story— though not necessarily the least convincing” (Plot 321), has Lindbergh disappear to save the life of his son. Famously kidnapped as an infant but, according to Evelyn, far from being killed by the kidnapper as had been widely understood, the boy was spirited away to the Nazis who thereafter raised him as a Nazi and used him to blackmail Lindbergh, manipulating the aviator like a marionette throughout his entire candidacy and Presidency. Occupying the position of greatest persuasive force by appearing at the end of the narrative, that is, Evelyn’s explanation turns the counterhistorical Lindbergh catastrophe entirely into a story of a father trying—and failing— to save his son.14 The same might be said of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005) insofar as it is read for its depictions of post-9/11 trauma. Foer makes the “worst day” (Foer, Extremely 11) intimate by way of the experience of the bereft child, Oskar Schell, whose father dies in the collapse of the Twin Towers. Foer also offers an interpretive analogue to the catastrophe of 9/11 in the traumatic history of Oskar’s grandparents, who physically, if not psychologically, survived the Dresden fire-bombing during World War II, their own “worst day.” Far from being figurative absences, the fathers in Foer’s novel are traumatically wrenched from their families, and Foer devises unique narrative strategies to convey the problem of absence, writing about and around what is not fully there in the postpatriarchal world. Thomas Schell, Sr., and Thomas Schell, Jr., are silenced and made impotent by historical violence on an epic scale. In divergent ways, the Schell fathers—

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the son dead in 2001, his father frozen in time by his losses many years before—register melancholy, anxiety, nostalgia, and psychological paralysis regarding the male subject’s lost power. Foer’s novel demonstrably undercuts Ellen G. Friedman’s assertions, discussed in Chapter 1, regarding the relative dispensability of the postpatriarchal father figure, because for neither son, Thomas, Jr., nor Oskar, is the loss of the father recoupable. Foer demonstrates the crisis from both sides of the story—from the fathers who vanish, and from the sons who long for them ceaselessly. He heightens the effect of each loss by foregrounding how the act of storytelling itself, motivated, as in Robert Con Davis’s formulation, by “the fact of paternal absence” (8), shifts into fragments as the storyteller approaches the abyss of permanent absence. The historically prior trauma of Oskar’s grandfather’s survival of the Dresden firebombing serves as the narrative and symbolic frame for Oskar’s post-9/11 storytelling. Foer presents Thomas Schell, Sr., as a paradigm of the post-traumatic condition, which he figures especially by way of his relationship to language.15 I will thus explore the deflective but, finally, failed mechanisms through which the two Thomas Schells address their positions as postpatriarchal fathers, focusing especially on two juxtaposed chapters appearing two-thirds of the way through the narrative. To signify the unspeakability of his trauma at Dresden, Thomas Schell, Sr., abandons speech, claiming several times, in writing, that “ ‘I don’t speak’ ” (Extremely 30, 237)—not that he cannot do so. He retreats from the world and from time; he remains in a permanent, static moment of loss, immersed in a memory from which he cannot budge into an ongoing present. With his wife, whose sister Anna was the pregnant lover he lost in Dresden, he constructs a life made claustrophobic by rules, telling her “Home is the place with the most rules. [. . .] And we will have to make more rules”—“To make it more of a home,” she replies, understanding his need (185). But he realizes that “everything between us has been a rule to govern our life together, everything a measurement, a marriage of millimeters” (109). Thomas, Sr., intends silence and rules to structure a life destroyed by chaos, but the rules are so confining and life-denying that they parody the binding, procreative law of the patriarchal order. Thomas’s “first rule,” for example, when he agrees to marry his wife, is “No children” (85). Devoting himself to absence, to a melancholic’s perpetual refusal to reenter time after traumatic loss, he cedes the possibility of fatherhood. Conventionally, a father’s responsibility is to look to and protect the future rather than to live in the past. Out of relentless grief, Thomas, Sr., rejects this responsibility so as to live in a timeless condition in which trauma is acted out in endless repetition. Scrawling a few words on notebook pages for everyday dealings, Thomas, Sr., fills his emptiness with compulsive writing read by no one, with one exception, and which becomes an illegible palimpsest as it approaches traumatic memory. Specifically, he writes memoiristic letters that he never sends to the son he has never known. The unsent letters bespeak his failure

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of will, his consuming fear of living in the present, and his obsessive need to articulate his pain and guilt, which is thwarted by his equivalent need to blot out his memories. The exception is a letter that appears as chapter 10, titled, like the others, “Why I’m not where you are,” dated 1978, when Thomas, Jr., would have been fifteen, and sent from Dresden. Thomas, Sr., had fled his wife in New York before his son’s birth, after she broke the “rule” protecting him from paternal responsibilities. This letter, which names the “tragedy of loving” as the condition that “you can’t love anything more than something you miss” (208), narrates Thomas’s love for Anna and Anna’s confession that she is pregnant, followed by graphic images of the death and devastation wrought by the 1945 firebombing, in which she and her unborn child die. Thomas’s confessional letter shows survivor’s guilt—“I blamed myself for everything” (213)—and the writing becomes fevered and breathless until he superimposes his involuntary loss on his voluntary one: “Maybe if I had said, ‘I lost a baby,’ if I’d said ‘I’m so afraid of losing something I love that I refuse to love anything,’ maybe that would have made the impossible possible” (216)—meaning that he might have assumed his place as Thomas, Jr.’s father. He has effectively lost two babies. Thomas’s letter demonstrates one of Foer’s many formal experiments, as it is printed throughout with inked red circles, like a graded student paper— mostly catching grammatical errors, like the comma splices that crowd together when the writing struggles to describe the indescribable carnage, but at times capturing notable facts and reflections. The reader has at this point no explanation of these meta-critical marks, unless we have been cued by Oskar’s narrations about Thomas, Jr.’s punctilious relation to English usage, to alert us that the marks on the father’s letter are in the son’s hand. This letter becomes a pivot point in the novel, revealing how Thomas, Sr., in the end fails to address his son as a son, as well as exposing Thomas, Jr.’s ineffectual mechanisms to fill his own lack. Foer unwraps the mystery in chapter 14, in another unsent letter from Thomas, Sr., dated on the second anniversary of his son’s death. He recounts his interactions with Oskar, whom he has at last met, and who becomes conflated for him with the other lost children. After Thomas, Sr., returns from Dresden immediately after 9/11 to take up incognito residence as Oskar’s grandmother’s “renter,” she tells her husband how Thomas, Jr., had struggled to fill the place of the missing father: “‘He tried to find you once. I gave him that only letter you ever sent. He was obsessed with it, always reading it. I don’t know what you wrote, but it made him go and look for you’” (277). Thomas, Sr., reports that when his son arrived on his doorstep in Dresden to meet his father, he did not identify himself; “‘We talked about nothing’” (277), he admits, “‘It was terrible. All of the things we couldn’t share. The room was filled with conversations we weren’t having’” (278). Thomas, Sr., identifies the compulsive repetition at the heart of his traumatic condition when he writes to his now-dead son about the son’s own son, whom he has

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followed silently for eight months on Oskar’s quixotic quest through the streets of New York: “he was trying to find you, just as you’d tried to find me, [. . .] why can’t people say what they mean at the time?” (279). Although Thomas, Sr., signs the 1978 letter with the inscription “I love you, / Your father” (216), his “love” is more notional than actual, as they have never met. When they do meet, this later letter shows, he can say nothing; he has nothing to offer, no words or sign, effectively cancelling out the words he has sent, rather like the corrections his son makes upon them. The 1978 letter fails to turn language to action, to make present the reassurance of a patriarchal figure to structure his son’s subjectivity and bring the narrative to a close. Instead, it inscribes an absence that becomes permanent when his son dies: “here I am, instead of there” (216), Thomas, Sr., writes—he is “here” in previously devastated Dresden, not “there” in freshly wounded New York. Without the presence of a father to acknowledge his paternity, Thomas, Jr., registers in his obsessive “corrections” to the 1978 letter his attempts, like his father, to contain his grief within rules—the rules of grammar. Like the titular corrections attempted by the Lambert family in Franzen’s novel, however, Thomas, Jr.’s fall pitifully short of re-ordering his familial identity or creating a “dynamic” narrative for himself, in Davis’s terms, when he confronts his father. Yet Thomas, Jr., habitually makes such useless “corrections” literally, marking the mistakes in the New York Times with a red pen (9). Although we see the adult Thomas, Jr., largely through Oskar’s fond, troubled memories, his compensatory strategies of being a father inevitably respond to his own postpatriarchal condition: he strives intentionally to be a father according to the patriarchal prescription. Thomas Schell, Jr., seems his father’s antithesis in his loving attentiveness to Oskar, for example. Nevertheless, he is stripped of his role as paternal protector by historical circumstance. The novel dramatizes his condition by posing Thomas, Jr.’s thwarted communications (his telephone calls to Oskar from the burning tower, his mysterious message in a vase) against two moving but ultimately futile types of strategic storytelling he engages in with his son: first, the charming but pointless “Reconnaissance Expeditions” he engineers for Oskar; and second, the hollowly utopian fantasy he tells his son of the existence of a lost Sixth Borough in New York. Thomas, Jr., sends Oskar on Reconnaissance Expeditions to find random things in the city. These Expeditions compulsively repeat, in displaced form, the abortive quest he engaged in many years before to find his father—except that they have no actual object because it never matters what Oskar actually finds. These expeditions are intellectual puzzles that seem to engage Oskar in free, open-ended inquiry even while comforting him that his father is there to make the rules. When Thomas, Jr., hands Oskar a map of Central Park and refuses to offer clues, Oskar asks, “‘Is no clues a clue?’” and reports that “He shrugged his shoulders like he had no idea what I was talking about. I loved that” (8). After beginning the Expedition, Oskar asks his father if he’s on the

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right track; Thomas, Jr., shrugs again: “‘But if you don’t tell me anything, how can I ever be right?’” he asks. “He circled something in an article and said, ‘Another way of looking at it would be, how could you ever be wrong?’” (9). Thomas, Jr., has circled “not stop looking,” which Oskar interprets as “a message to me!” (10). Perhaps Thomas, Jr., is training Oskar to be independentminded, curious, and confident. At the same time, however, he is also demonstrating the futility of following the Father’s rules, interpreting signs that are meaningless, and engaging in quests that have no object: “The more I found, the less I understood,” Oskar notes. When he connects the dots on the map, representing where he finds objects, he concludes, “I could connect them to make almost anything I wanted, which meant I wasn’t getting closer to anything” (10). No recognition exists in this act of “reconnaissance”— there is neither knowing nor re-knowing. The father may be training the son for life, which seems to be his devoted intention; but he is effectively training Oskar to experience, in repetition of his own past, a desire that can’t be satisfied, unmotivated stories, deconstructed, meaningless signifiers—and a father who shrugs off his authority. The Reconnaissance Expeditions are allegories for Thomas, Jr.’s loss of his father, repeating that loss into the next generation. So too is his story of New York City’s lost Sixth Borough. Sparely alluded to in the novel’s opening chapter as the bedtime story Thomas, Jr., tells Oskar the night before he perishes, the narration of the story of the Sixth Borough appears in the novel only belatedly. It is juxtaposed to the chapter presenting Thomas, Sr.’s 1978 letter to his son—the letter that Thomas, Jr., marked up, telling of the Dresden firebombing. This ordering seems far from accidental; Thomas, Jr.’s fantastical story is, narratively, his answer, perhaps for himself as well as for Oskar, to the gap that the letter creates for him. Thomas, Jr.’s tale substitutes loss of place (the Sixth Borough) for loss in time (the death of loved ones). It also offers hope that the world is recoverable in storytelling. His whimsical Sixth Borough is an illusory space that becomes a geographical figure for absence, a hole in the known world that opens naturally, if inevitably. The hole in New York is Thomas, Jr.’s premonition of Ground Zero, a hole standing for New York’s losses and for those of the abandoned sons. As the mythical Sixth Borough begins to drift out to sea, Thomas, Jr., explains, the inhabitants unsuccessfully devise fanciful inventions—like the many that preoccupy Oskar’s obsessively melancholic imagination—to retain a connection to Manhattan by resisting time.16 “Revert[ing] to old-fashioned technologies” like magnifying glasses, harnesses, magnets, and “string-and-tin-can phone[s]” (219), the Sixth Boroughers clutch futilely at what they know because they “didn’t want to change” (221). Thomas’s parable encourages Oskar to move beyond traumatic losses to accept change. Yet his own death reveals as illusory the fatherly comfort he provides about the future. He assures Oskar of the Borough’s permanence as

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an island that “moves across the planet, [and] acts like a frame, displaying what lies beneath it” (222). He devises here a metaphor for the power of the imagination to capture and, in storytelling, restore what has been lost. At the core of the Sixth Borough lies the serendipitously named Central Park, the figure of a presence, a lost center that, contrary to Derrida’s nihilistic formula, appears to be rescued for meaning: in the last moments of the Borough, Thomas, Jr., asserts, Central Park was, with “[e]normous hooks [, . . .] pulled by the people of New York, like a rug across a floor” (221) to Manhattan from the vanishing island. The names of some of the missing remain, he affirms, while the island itself drifts to Antarctica, where its inhabitants remain frozen in suspended animation as if waiting to be resurrected. Oskar cherishes the “memory” of the place—and of his father—constructed in his father’s storytelling. But Thomas, Jr.’s fiction is unreliable, a fantasy dressed up in words. Thomas plays on Oskar’s innocent trust at the end of the story, when Oskar asks whether the objects he found in Central Park on his Reconnaissance Expedition “were actually from the Sixth Borough”; again, Oskar notes, “He shrugged his shoulders, which I loved” (223). Because Oskar has not yet lost anything, he is untroubled by his father’s evasive response, which at this moment seems an artifact of his authority and paternal omniscience, not his impotence. Oskar’s perception is then opened to reversal in fewer than twenty-four hours of plot. Finally, neither Thomas Schell can, in the position of a father, fill the gap of his absence. Thomas, Jr.’s failed quest for Thomas, Sr., turns him into a wounded son, his abandonment making him vulnerable, as it were, to a metaphorical free fall—and that, in the compulsive repetition of Oskar’s experience, becomes all too literal with the fall of the Twin Towers. Oskar, in turn, so loves the father he has known and lost that, in a moment of angry despair, he displaces his hurt onto his mother, saying, “ ‘If I could have chosen, I would have chosen you!’ ” (171). He therefore searches through the novel for the lost father. Foer makes literal the symbolic desire for the Lacanian Name-of-the-father when Oskar sees the name “Thomas Schell” tested out in many colors and media all over the sample pads of an art supply store. “His name was everywhere,” Oskar notes (50, italics in original), and it is only much later that we learn of Oskar’s misreading: the inscriptions are Thomas, Sr.’s (275), not his son’s. Despite the lack he repeatedly outlines, however, Foer seems in the end unwilling to accept the implications of the layered stories of paternal failure that he tells. The novel resorts to a conservative, sentimental closure that, reminiscent of McCarthy’s ending to The Road, in many respects denies the critique of postpatriarchal impotence that it has been building, as if that is too unspeakable a conclusion to be expressed fully.17 Oskar, together with Thomas, Sr., whom he belatedly recognizes to be his grandfather, exhumes his father’s empty coffin, to fill it, likewise belatedly, with all the letters Thomas, Sr., never sent his son. In drawing the circle of familial lineage

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closed in an act embodying an homage to textuality, grandfather and grandson also close the circle of communication, but only according to an irony Foer refuses to acknowledge: the letters reach nothing but absence and silence rather than a reader. Oskar begins to accept his mother’s desire to move from grief back into time, within a family she tentatively restructures with a widower. For her part, his mother releases Oskar from his solitary burden of guilt at not answering his father’s final phone call to their apartment, by confessing to him that his father had also called her just before the tower fell. She furthermore allows him to understand that, unbeknownst to him, he has been entirely under her protection as he wanders the streets of New York on his quest for his father’s untold story— for the lock that would fit the key Oskar finds in his father’s closet.18 That is, Oskar’s mother and grandfather take the place of the patriarchal figure, restoring order and security—and rules—to the child’s life. Foer confirms that he has supplied a redemptive revelation—“a simple solution to an impossible problem” (304, 321)—when to close the novel’s last chapter, he offers Oskar’s final fantasy of reversing time. Yet the solution exists only on the level of fantasy. Oskar imagines the “worst day” (11) in reverse time, leading back to his father’s consoling story of the Sixth Borough, and concluding in the novel’s last line with a final illusion: “We would have been safe” (326).19 Oskar’s recourse to fantasy is underscored by the fifteenpage “flipbook” following the final page of the novel’s text, whose photographs reverse the trajectory of a body falling from the World Trade Tower.20 It is a nostalgic, even mythic foreclosing of the traumatic circumstance of the father’s absence, a retreat to the innocence of an American prehistory that never was. Oskar, like his father before him, exists fixedly in a postpatriarchal condition, a condition that is effaced only by the sentimental trickery of fictive invention. For Foer, the father in the postpatriarchal world is in his absence at once never, and necessarily always, recoupable.

Claire Messud and “Dad’s Thing”— The Emperor’s Children In comparing Messud’s presentation of the postpatriarchal father in The Emperor’s Children to Roth’s and Foer’s, I would not wish to reduce her skeptical perspective to her position as a woman writer—against such reductiveness, my study has examined nostalgic fictions by such women writers as Simpson and Maso. Nevertheless, it is telling that, far from finding the patriarchal figure to be painfully unrecoupable, the satiric Emperor’s Children implies even in its titular allusion that there may have been little to “recoup” in the first place. That allusion is, of course, to the folktale best known from Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the child who is the only

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citizen to reveal that the vain emperor has no clothes. Messud refers explicitly to the tale a number of times (Emperor 172, 197, 226, 227, 315, 419, 437, for example), gradually conveying that not only is the “emperor,” the patriarchal figure Murray Thwaite, unwittingly naked to observers, but so also are the emperor’s children, biological and surrogate. Rather as DeLillo exposes Jack Gladney, Messud strips Murray Thwaite of his intellectual pretensions, especially how his familial and social authority rests on his capital as a renowned cultural critic. The novel uncovers the puffery, arrogance, and underlying impotence of this patriarchal figure, deconstructing the “high” cultural system on which his power depends. At the same time, it exposes the shallowness of the “children” who have subscribed to his authority and variously wedded themselves to imitating and serving the image he projects which, in turn, ultimately fails them. Messud’s sympathy for her feckless characters may seem at times to blunt the satire. As Nathan Oates rightly argues, “her attention to her characters is deeply ethical, for it makes them individuals; yet this very individuality [. . .] distracts not only the characters but also the reader from the larger realities, so that we end up caring deeply about rivalries and betrayals that are essentially insubstantial” (160).21 The reader is thereby trapped within the same contradictions as the characters, only to return like them to the status quo. In particular, the novel does not finally disrupt the logic of patriarchal power. A passing exchange between Ludovic—the up-and-coming, selfimportant Australian editor, soon to be the fiancé of Murray’s daughter, Marina—and her best friend, Danielle, captures the novel’s ambiguity. When Ludovic archly insists, “ ‘If you can’t escape the system, you must simply become the system,’ ” Danielle clarifies, “ ‘Alter it from within,’ ” and he counters: “No, not at all. Not ‘within.’ The very notion is fallacious. [. . .] You become the system. You become what people want to be’ ” (Emperor 172, italics in original). Ludovic intends to sound subversive and knowing as well as to make Danielle’s earnest politics seem naïve; over-confidently, he assumes that he can beat the “system” by appropriating it. His pompous selfregard cynically depends on assuming that interactions are superficially performative rather than meaningful, revealing his hollowness. He just wants to get ahead according to the terms of success that have already been defined for him: that of an intellectual cachet that, within New York culture, projects a cultivated version of masculine prowess. One can read a truth not only in his conceited claims but also in his very character: this social group can do nothing but become the system, to replicate rather than revise or improve it. Messud’s inclusion of the 9/11 catastrophe ironically reinstates to a degree the values the novel satirizes. The great losses the attack on their city causes do not disrupt the characters’ complacency in a fundamental way. They are not moved to change or repudiate the system—the very values that lay them, and their city, vulnerable to attack, whether real or ideological. Rather, the event of 9/11 exposes how consuming the dominant system is.

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Arin Keeble argues convincingly that The Emperor’s Children, like some other novels referring to the September 11th attacks, inclines toward presenting the event “in terms of temporary disruption rather than an epoch or traumatic moment,” revealing a commitment to “a subliminal or unconscious restoration of equilibrium, evoking ideas of continuity, history, and context” (356). Still, a reader could come away from the novel with an unmitigated critique of the values that support the system to which Ludo refers, were it not that Messud concludes the tales of a few of her characters, notably Danielle and Murray’s nephew, Frederick (Bootie) Tubb, with renewed hope, however misplaced, in liberal self-fulfillment that clings to those moribund values. As readers have noted, The Emperor’s Children is a novel of manners, keenly focused on maneuverings within what constitutes “polite” society in Manhattan at the turn of the millennium.22 Like her predecessors Jane Austen and Henry James, Messud is attuned to how people under pressure from social expectations and their own ideals are apt to grossly misperceive themselves and others. Her satire consists in exposing these ideologically entangled dimensions of the social web—the expectations, aspirations, and misreadings—that contribute to “making it” in the local terms of social valuation. In the circle of Thwaite’s New York, public success as an intellectual or artist is the goal for Murray’s real and symbolic “children,” and their feeling of success may depend solely on the capacity to perform it, to play the role rather than necessarily to achieve a meaningful goal. As Oates puts it succinctly, these “Ivy League-educated, upper-middle-class intellectuals living in New York [. . .] focus their energies on the surface. They strive to create, or re-create, an image of themselves that the world will applaud” (159). No wonder, then, that O’Rourke summarizes the novel’s theme as “the gap between the real and the perceived” (10)—because the characters are prone to misjudge the real in their own interests. That is where Messud’s central trope comes into play. In the source tale, itself a brilliant riff on manners, on pretense and perception, the preening emperor has been taken in by devious, fawning weavers who tell him that the clothing they have “made” for him appears invisible only to those who are themselves stupid or deficient. Not only, then, will others not have the courage to call his bluff, because they risk making themselves look incompetent, but also the emperor himself must blithely continue his performance of being handsomely clothed despite the evidence present to his senses that either he must be deficient, too, or he is being humiliatingly exposed to view. So it is with Murray Thwaite. For example, Murray feels “he had to live up to [Marina’s] expectations, had to be the myth” (Emperor 320). To Danielle, with whom he carries on a displaced incestuous relationship, he wears an “impenetrable” “mask,” acting “the amiable, distracted patrician patriarch” (297). And to Bootie, who most effectively strips his mask away, Murray’s “greatness lay not in his words or his actions but simply in his capacity to

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convince people of that greatness, starting, naturally, with himself. Murray who was emperor in this place of pretense” (437). The belief that one may, like the emperor, have a position to defend exacerbates the impulse toward pretense and misperception. Because most of Messud’s characters feel entitled by their education, tastes, and in Marina’s case, inherited social status, they have much at stake in maintaining their position, however illusory or unfounded it may be. Rather than taking up all of Murray’s “children” in turn as well as Murray himself, however, I will focus on just the three I have named, who are closest to him and therefore most revealing: Marina, his daughter; Danielle, the unnerved target of his aging sexual pride; and Bootie, the autodidact who aspires to match and even displace his uncle.23 Unsurprisingly, Marina as Murray’s biological child is not only the most entitled of her circle but also the most obviously fixated on living up to the standards he has imposed on himself and, by extension, on her. Marina returns to her parents’ apartment after failing to complete the book about children’s clothing on which she has been dallying for years in an effort to replicate her father’s success as a cultural critic. She rationalizes her defeat, whining to herself that he understands neither her nor the “impossibility of fulfilling her promise” (141)—the “promise” that she has always inferred about herself as the daughter of this successful father. When Danielle observes “her friend’s uncritical devotion to her father” (40), she judges that “Marina’s present life [. . . is] a life arrested at, or at least returned to, childhood” (46). Marina, who most fears being “ ‘ordinary, like everybody else’ ” (74) and who seems most to wish for fame like her father’s, cravenly seeks his approval. Messud makes the Freudian clichés explicit. Ludo complains to Danielle that Marina “ ‘thinks [Murray is] brilliant. She’s her father’s Anna Freud. I think she’d marry him if she could’ ” (121). Murray, in turn, recognizes that she is “her father’s daughter” (70), but his recognition of her does not extend to the self-recognition he might have found in the mirror of Marina’s deficiencies and self-regard. Instead, he repeatedly if for the most part silently feels disappointed in everything about Marina but her beauty—an evaluation that reveals his relative sexism despite his claims to a liberal politics.24 Murray laments to himself that, having raised her with privileges “as he’d wished to have been raised,” she is now “stymied [. . .] by the absence of any limitations against which to rebel” (136). When he compares her to his own youth, in which his ambition to succeed as a writer enabled him to have “slain his father, no question about it” (137), Messud completes the oedipal analogy. Marina has most at stake when she attempts to beat Murray at his own game. When she at last finishes her manuscript of The Emperor’s Children Have No Clothes (315), however—the title a somewhat heavy-handed joke on Messud’s part—Murray finds it to consist of “frothy waffle, repetitive opining [, . . .] introductory sociology garbage [. . .] an artfully wrapped gift

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box [. . .] that, when opened, proved to be empty” (319). He tells her not to publish the book, in part because, as she infers, her failure is a stab at his own vanity. But Marina reveals a like vanity when she interprets Murray’s judgment as evincing professional competition with his daughter, a condition that would presume they are intellectual equals. Marina seems to call the emperor naked when she tells Danielle, “ ‘He’s like the monster that ate Manhattan, he thinks it’s all, always, all about him’ ” (342). She shows herself, however, as truly her father’s daughter because she makes this judgment out of her wounded pride. She does little more than reproduce Murray’s narcissistic evaluation of others—howsoever her scorn is aimed at him. When, furthermore, the consequences of the September 11th attack undermine her sense of her privileged security, destroying Marina and Ludo’s planned release of the cultural magazine that was to make their reputations, and causing her to feel Danielle drifting away from her, Marina summons no self-knowledge or wider moral sense. With an ear for the telling locution, Messud gives to Marina, as her last word in the final chapter focalized on her, the self-serving, adolescent dismissal, “ ‘Whatever’ ” (453). “Whatever” becomes tantamount to her response to 9/11. Danielle, who has a steady job and seems more stable, self-knowing, and empathetic than Marina, is nevertheless also taken in by Murray’s image of intellectual and cultural power. Flattered by his attentions, she is aware at the beginning of their email flirtation that, though “his tone was professorial, avuncular [. . .] there was something not quite right about it all, some touch of titillating betrayal in their pithy messages, whether the slightest flutter of the sexual or merely an inappropriate ascription of the father-daughter bond” (93). She thus recognizes the incestuous subtext of her developing affair with her best friend’s father, which leaves her with “a certainty of wrong, a moral repugnance” (231), “[a]s if she were in love with her father” (299). But she experiences the ethical dimension of her relations only “abstractly.” It is overshadowed by her “fierce tenderness [. . .] for this disintegrating giant, the joy at his small kindnesses and vulnerabilities” and her belief that they sympathetically understand one another, which allows her to bask in the reflected glow of his supposed prominence, so that “in truth, she didn’t really contemplate renouncing him” (231). The fantasy of taking on his masculine power and knowledge, like Yeats’s Leda with the Swan, blinds Danielle to Murray’s selfish, inconstant desires—to the father fantasy that he reproduces. Instead, in due course, he renounces her; after they together witness from her apartment window the fall of the Twin Towers, his objectifying pipe dream of recovering his sexual youth with Danielle dissolves and he realizes that “he wanted so much to go home” to his wife, Annabel, even at the cost of confessing his unfaithfulness (413). Traumatic history sends him scuttling back into his familiar, unreconstructed paternal role. Danielle sinks into depression, still naively believing the fantasy that in Murray she had “found

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[her] other half, [her] Platonic completion, and then [her] self.” When the narrator reports from Danielle’s viewpoint that, unlike herself, “the world, in spite of the bigger disasters, or perhaps because of them, stoically kept on” (467), Messud uncovers the grotesque ethical disproportion within even this sympathetic and less entitled character. Danielle implicitly compares her suffering at being jilted by Murray to the losses of 9/11—the contemporaneous events are as if conflated for her—and she is as self-dramatizing as her peers when she contemplates suicide, though she quickly recognizes that, practically, “No, she didn’t imagine that she could” swallow the requisite number of pills (469). Murray has blinded her with his image, but for all his book knowledge, he provides her little wisdom, nourishment, or perspective. Messud’s satiric proof of his failure appears in Danielle’s subsequent responses to her loss. Within just a few days of her mother whisking her off to South Beach, Florida, she feels “newborn, naked, everything up till now erased” (471). She decides to return to developing a film project about liposuction, thinking, in the tones of Messud’s calculated satire of self-delusion, that “[i]t seemed, in some lights, trivial, but it wasn’t really. By the time it was finished, people would be tired of greater tragedies, and would be ready to watch it again” (473). When Danielle quickly returns to who she was before Murray and to the trifles that engaged her, her responses embody Marina’s dismissive “Whatever.” Yet Messud does give Danielle moments of insight, as when she remarks that she feels a surprising connection to Bootie: “ ‘I feel like in some way I am him, or he is me’ ” (402). Danielle glimpses how Bootie enacts in large scale how she idealizes Murray. In Bootie, Messud offers her clearest example of how a family romance fantasy arises around the specific patriarchal image Murray projects. In one chapter focalized in Bootie’s perspective, the narrator remarks, “Bootie felt fiercely about the Thwaites. He wanted them to be his family” (207). A teenager and fatherless, Bootie sets out to teach himself, like “a pilgrim in search of knowledge” (108), by sitting at the surrogate father’s feet, delighted to be “in the long shadow of such a man, to know by his existence of what might be possible in life” (238–39). Messud clarifies the similitude in Bootie’s mind between Murray and the cultural capital he represents to his nephew when Bootie determines “to learn from his uncle, to learn his uncle, indeed, as though his uncle were a book” (210). Because he valorizes the sort of book smarts that Murray embodies for him in a pure, hagiographic manner, Bootie has the farthest to fall when, in the terms of Messud’s central motif, “he saw the man naked, saw the man’s need and desire, and was repelled” (242). This happens when Bootie betrays Murray’s trust by surreptitiously reading the journalist’s secret manuscript, titled How to Live, which Murray intends as “the distillation, crystalline, of all he had learned, and knew, and had come to live by” (69). Murray’s arrogantly conceived magnum opus is meant to perpetuate the wisdom of the intellectual patriarchy. Bootie judges Murray as “a lazy, self-absorbed, star-fucking con trick” and, filled with rage at his

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own disappointment when the manuscript seems “pretentious and trite” (242), he determines to expose him in an essay. His is clearly an oedipal betrayal of the surrogate father, as he plans to use the “master’s” weapon— deploying the discourse of the father—to deflate the master himself. Yet even after Bootie, presumed dead in the collapse of the World Trade Towers, escapes the patriarch he had constructed for himself and the New York world that wounds him in order to craft a new identity in Florida, he remains stuck within the ideological system Murray represents. Like Marina, Bootie most fears being undistinguished—“He would rather,” the narrator remarks, “be alone and unwanted than ordinary” (286)—and also like her, he longs to prove his mettle on the same ground of learning as Murray. Messud has Bootie lay himself bare especially in his obsession with Emerson, whom he has not fully understood. For example, Bootie reads Emerson’s line that “ ‘egotism has its root in the cardinal necessity by which each individual persists to be what he is’ ” during the same scene in which he tries to convince Marina that his “ ‘cultural exposé’ ” (333) of her father is justifiable. He thus seems to conjure, via another intellectual “father,” Emerson, a kind of Darwinian defense of his own egotism in writing his rant against Murray in the name of “truth.” Later, deciding to capitalize on the 9/11 chaos, Bootie summons Emerson’s notion that “great geniuses have the shortest biographies” (437) to legitimize his decision to disappear. In doing so, he reduces Emersonian self-reliance and nonconformity not to the purpose of a revolutionary ethics but rather to a postmodern evacuation of presence: “this thrill of absolute unknownness was not something to be feared. It was the point of it all. To be absolutely unrelated. Without context. To be truly and in every way self-reliant” (438). Bootie thus commits the ethical error that Messud ironically reserves for the concluding lines of the novel, as he imagines living the liberal dream of unfettered selfhood. If he keeps his biography short, becomes rootless, so as to be “This person in motion [. . .] and take them by surprise” (479), he believes that his performance of anonymity and isolation—which, incidentally, will break his mother’s heart when he vanishes—will retroactively prove his genius. He wishes to succeed in the same terms as Murray. In his aim finally to attain social approval, Bootie summons a contradictory Calvinist logic to serve his perverse understanding of self-reliance: if he is surprising—an impression dependent on others’ views of him—it must mean he is brilliant and free. Bootie’s error is predictable in that his paternal model has founded his masculinist identity upon the fruits of his intellectual labor, framed and rewarded as independent thinking achieved through aggressive dismissal of his opponents. In this way, as Nathan Oates argues, Messud elucidates “the American idea of the inviolable individual, a status [. . .] predicated on a willful violence and aggression that our culture has hidden from our eyes behind an ornate curtain” (160). The paradigm underwriting the patriarchal system thus remains intact into the younger generation.

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That system—and its faults—are fully visible within Messud’s characterization of Murray Thwaite. Like the emperor in Andersen’s tale, he is foremost a performer, keenly aware of impressing his audience. He selfconsciously performs the role of “ ‘paterfamilias,’ ” adding domestic pleasures to his professional successes; when grilling a steak, for example, “[f]at spattered on the front of his shirt. He felt that this in itself was manly” (Emperor 273). Even his housemaid, Aurora, sees through him, however: “They all live in the house and pretend he is easy and lovable but really he is difficult, he is demanding and selfish and often angry, usually about selfish things” (221). His bluster only partly conceals his anxieties, which surface most clearly in relation to Bootie, from whom he fears a symbolic patricide, “ ‘doing away with me,’ ” in a “ ‘mortal [. . .] blow’ ” (376). Bootie poses a threat to his performance of patriarchal power because he has read Murray’s “grandiose” secret manuscript of How to Live, which he has been writing for a decade, and to which Marina refers “with an ironic obliquity as ‘Dad’s Thing’ ” (69). Messud’s throwaway reference is more than a clever joke. Calling the manuscript of Murray’s most earnest project “Dad’s Thing” identifies how his writing is for him the fetish object that stands for the father’s phallus. If Bootie exposes Murray by way of the writing project, he exposes the phallus itself, the symbolic “thing” that gives Murray his power, as impotent. Confronted with Bootie’s accusations, Murray confesses to Danielle that the manuscript is “ ‘a self-parody [. . .] a fake’ ” (345), and that perhaps Bootie is “ ‘the only one brave enough and dumb enough to tell me the truth’ ” (344). In the terms of the narrative’s originating metaphor, then, innocent Bootie promises to strip the emperor of his clothes. But Messud’s satire draws away from the exposure to which her plotting of the novel leads, and that shift is enabled by her inclusion of the attack on the World Trade Center as a narrative focal point. The tragedy of 9/11 gives Murray a perverse gift, consolidating his power: he is invited to opine in the media, with the result that “the nation’s tragedy had brought a resurgence of celebrity” (450) to him. He dismisses responsibility for Bootie’s fate, even though Bootie’s disappearance materially realizes the figuratively castrating threat Murray as surrogate father had made in firing his nephew for his betrayal: “ ‘as far as I’m concerned, and, with me, the thinking portion of this city, and by extension, of this nation, you will simply cease to exist’ ” (338). Yet privately humbled by Bootie’s accusations, “Dad” at first decides not to wield his “Thing” to public acclaim—not to publish How to Live. Still, as he regains his position in the family and celebrity culture, like Danielle, he reconsiders his project, thinking that his decision to abandon the book was “merely a small man’s fear” and concluding, “without vanity, that even if his words were not genius, they were still more truthful, and thoughtful, than those of most of the men and women who surrounded him” (461). Without vanity, indeed; Messud suggests that with impunity, the emperor wraps himself again in his invisible garb, with no one left to call him naked.

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The novel thereby suggests that restitution of the unredeemed patriarchal order is inevitably the way of the world in contemporary American culture. Unlike Roth’s and Foer’s novels, Messud’s does not represent this turn of events as fulfilling a nostalgic, redemptive ideal, except insofar as the narrative reveals, by contrast, an enduring ethical and political gap. The father is exposed as an unfit “emperor,” with only the buried implication that perhaps another father figure might be fitter—better dressed for the role, as it were. Murray Thwaite remains at the center of the needs and desires of his “children,” his narcissism and lack of meaningful social engagement reproduced by them. Far from disrupting the ideology of power and prestige supporting the system of fatherly authority, the attack on the World Trade Center effectively reinforces it. Yet the father revealed by Messud’s apocalyptic imagination is a sorry figure, and to the degree that he represents the authority of the sophisticated cultural system epitomized by New York intellectual society, Messud’s satire deconstructs that authority as resting on little more than air, privilege, and self-aggrandizement. Messud thus allegorizes, according to Carol Iannone’s succinct summary, “a society detached from its roots, fed by shopworn platitudes, without deeply held beliefs of any kind” (73). Indeed, if Murray Thwaite holds the keys to the Arnoldian best which has been thought and said in contemporary American culture, then Messud’s skepticism may pull the very rug even from beneath her own feet as a writer within that milieu.

8 Postmemory after the Patriarch: Narrating the War in Vietnam

The final chapter of this study follows the speculative and “real” apocalyptic histories, respectively, of the 1940s and early 2000s explored in Chapter 7 with a look at a historical period that falls roughly between those dates, when the skepticism that Messud documents had its start. The US war in Vietnam, as experienced from the perspective of American citizens, constituted a moment of national rupture, undoubtedly coloring the ideologies and political actions in the United States thereafter, including when in 2001 the nation faced the first foreign incursions into the “homeland” since its early years. The chapter focuses on histories of the Vietnam war, especially as the war was brought home to—or by—its varied actors. At issue is a cultural moment in which the masculinist ideology that, still holding sway after the US military successes in World War II and the bluff stances of Cold War tensions, supported the US war in Southeast Asia only to be undermined by the experience on the ground. Soldiers returned home as traumatized, cynically demoralized, unmanned veterans, often suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, and unable to reintegrate into society. The Vietnam War thus arguably both provoked and exposed the development toward a postpatriarchal society in the United States.1 Bobbie Ann Mason’s In Country (1985), the earliest of the three novels under discussion in this chapter, appeared just a decade after the fall of Saigon concluded the war and, like Simpson’s Lost Father, it focuses on a daughter’s quest for a father she has not known because, in Mason’s novel, he was killed in Vietnam. The absent father becomes the lack around which Samantha Hughes’s desires function, as she seeks knowledge of him and, by extension, of the war and of herself. The chapter continues with the bleaker, more existential vision and formal inventions of Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods (1994), which overtly resists clarity and closure by couching its exploration of absences in terms of structural disruptions and textual 197

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puzzles. John Wade, a veteran who apparently participated in the notorious My Lai massacre, the story of which he has deeply repressed, appears to reenact traumatic violence in the present, which is narrated as an unsolvable mystery. Wade’s psychology and actions appear to stem from his unreconciled relationship to an unforgiving father who dies without fully recognizing Wade as an autonomous or valuable subject. The matter of the father’s failure to recognize the son provides a link to the final novel discussed in Fictive Fathers. The concluding exploration of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (2015) turns the book’s argument inside out, as it were. Nguyen’s novel moves well beyond the North American context to take in alternative, critical perspectives on the postpatriarchal condition by repudiating the authority of the Western father of a racially hybridized son, who seeks to explode and erase the “history of Vietnam” known in American fiction, rewriting it from a Vietnamese American point of view. Each of these three novels highlights the problem of narrating over the gap of absence, attempting to delineate a history where no past is known definitively. In a sense the project of this book has been driving toward what becomes most explicit in these novels when they take on the contested, irrecoverable history of the Vietnam War: how, like it or not, the notional authority of the father remains embedded in the construction of historical understanding, shaping the present and future through acts of patriarchal fiat, creation, and ordering, and thus controlling ongoing narratives of the past. Without the paternal authority to ground the past, to fix it in a (master) narrative, the quasi-historical discourses unfolded in these novels tend toward suspension and irresolution, whether the gap has opened from paternal absence or filial resistance. To put it differently, the search for the absent father comes down to a search for the recovery of history itself. In each of these novels, however, that quest is thwarted. Fathers who are distant, unknown, unreadable, or dead represent historiography itself as a permanently unfinished project. This figuration is aided by the traumatic subject matter at the core of these three novels. “Vietnam” is a fraught, overdetermined signifier: it denotes a real place that was erased into myth in the memories of its Western interlopers. As an abstraction, it marks a time of ideological challenge, contradiction, and change within the American cultural consciousness. The proper noun furthermore conjures a war that Americans have narcissistically seen as their trauma, often blinding them to the ethics of their presence or the enormous suffering and objectification of the Vietnamese the US intervention caused. “Vietnam”—which I enclose in quotation marks to signal that it is often to be viewed as a symbolic concept rather than concretely a nation or geographical entity—is thus, in the American mind, a traumatic moment that disrupts history.2 Because Vietnam and its war designate a site of American trauma, motivated in In Country, In the Lake of the Woods, and The Sympathizer at

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least in part by fathers’ absences, all three are usefully explored in relation to Marianne Hirsch’s notion of “post-memory” as an analogue to the construction of historical narrative. Hirsch developed the concept to explain how the family members of Holocaust survivors understand and participate in the unspeakable, traumatic past of those who suffered, whether or not the survivors have chosen to tell their own stories to those who come after them. In writing about how family photographs create memories for those who have not lived the harrowing experiences undergone by their subjects, Hirsch proposes “post-memory” as a concept “distinguished from memory by generational distance and from history by deep personal connection”; she continues, “Post-memory should reflect back on memory, revealing it as equally constructed, equally mediated by the processes of narration and imagination” (“Family Pictures” 8–9). Post-memory is the process by which children fabricate “memories” of their parents’ traumatized lives, constructed out of the tatters of stories they hear or infer and the mute objects remaining in their parents’ possession. In the specific case of a photograph, Hirsch teases out the paradox of its “indexical nature” while meditating on its material presence: “Life is the presence of the object before the camera and the carnal medium of light which produces the image; death is the ‘havingbeen-there’ of the object—the radical break, the finality introduced by the past tense” (6). A material object need not be a photograph, however, to possess such paradoxical qualities. Any object has a history that implies the present tense of possession, use, and value, as well as the past tense of a possessor’s absence—both a life and a death—making it open to become, in Hirsch’s words, a “relic, or trace, or fetish” (Family Frames 19).3 In Mason, O’Brien, and Nguyen’s novels, the absent fathers are in various ways seductively, teasingly, misleadingly presented—or re-presented—in relation to a range of objects appearing within the narratives. At times the textualized objects are real things, such as photographs, at times they are textualized remains, such as letters or diaries, and at times they are more abstractly “objects,” signifiers of a cultural or mediated discourse that sponsors the father’s authority. Each offspring experiences trauma in relation to the missing father, and each crafts postmemories within which he or she seeks, out of vested interest, either to recover or conceal the father’s memory. I wish to highlight the ambiguity of that last phrase, “the father’s memory”: the nature of the trauma is such that each protagonist may desire to reexperience the memories the father experienced; or may desire, to the contrary, to expunge not only the memories belonging to the father but also the very memory of the father’s existence; or may, ambivalently, do both. While each novel is directed toward construction of a narrative of the past out of its fragments, each is also singular in thwarting the narratives the protagonist desires. Because In Country, In the Lake of the Woods, and The Sympathizer all recognize the authority of the father over narrative, they can propose no definitive narrative to replace the father’s story, and each finally

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suspends itself over an absence, unfilled. Insofar as an individual “makes” postmemory to recapture the story of a life and death, then, such an alwaysstymied process stands for historiographic reconstruction of moments of past traumas.

Bobbie Ann Mason at the Tomb of an Unknown Soldier—In Country As one of the first American novelists to address the experience of the Vietnam War, Mason notably chose to write In Country not, as, say, Tim O’Brien had done in Going After Cacciato (1978), from the point of view of the foot soldiers “in country,” but from the point of view of a female at home and too young to have even indirect contemporaneous knowledge of the war, for whom the story of the war and its participants begins as a complete blank. She grows up within what Sinéad McDermott calls “a culture of forgetting” (9) regarding the war, giving her little access to its stories.4 Mason directs light toward the twin problems of knowledge and selfhood afflicting the second generation displaced from traumatic historical events. Indeed, several scholars of Mason’s work have made effective analyses of Mason’s novel framed by Hirsch’s fruitful concept of postmemory.5 Sam Hughes, at seventeen, is motivated by the desire to understand where she came from, especially because she never knew her father, Dwayne Hughes, who left for the war a month after marrying her mother, Irene. He is, in a very real sense, the Dead Father who, like Barthelme’s figure but shorn of postmodern satire, shadows her landscape and shapes her narrative journey. Although Sam is deeply invested in the potent myth of paternal origins, however, she also maintains skepticism during her increasingly obsessive quest for Dwayne and his war. Well into the narrative, for example, Sam, whose perspective Mason frequently offers through passages of free indirect discourse, juxtaposes the key question of paternity to—quite literally—the most universal question of beginnings: She didn’t know why the moment of origin mattered. Scientists were trying to locate the moment of origin of the universe. They wanted to know exactly when it happened, and how, and whether it happened with a big bang or some other way. Maybe the universe originated quietly, without fireworks, the way human life started, with two people who were simply having a good time in bed, or in the back seat of a car. [. . .] It was just fucking (Mason, In Country 192). Sam’s conflicting impulses—both to engage the myth and to debunk it— underscore the central ambiguity of her quest for her missing father and the

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history for which he becomes an emblem. That ambiguity leads straight toward the indeterminacy of Mason’s ending, which both names Sam within her patrilineage and refuses her a name. Mason’s formal choice for the narrative follows its thematic function as a quest: Parts One and Three narrate Sam’s road trip, with her uncle and paternal grandmother, from Hopewell, Kentucky to Washington, DC, to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and those parts frame the long middle of her discoveries in Hopewell, in Part Two. The final destination is apt under the conditions of the history Sam seeks to fill in, but for the symbolic purposes of the narrative, Mason might as well have chosen instead a pilgrimage to the cemetery at Arlington, Virginia, to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier—since that monument ultimately names the empty signifier Sam must confront. As Barbara T. Ryan notes, Sam’s quest for her father is, on a larger scale, “a symbolic representation of modern man’s desire for the Logos—origin of meaning and authoritative discourse” (199), and she points out one of the paradoxes central to Sam’s search, which values “her father’s absent, dead, and therefore completed and meaningful voice. Sam clearly valorizes her father’s voice precisely because he is absent” (203, italics in original). In this way, she at once worships him as the elusive patriarch and, by doing so, ironically erases Dwayne Hughes as a historical actuality. In this sense, she participates in the culture of forgetting that otherwise dismays her. Sam’s experience of postmemory draws on a variety of sources, in particular, the popular culture and mediated images of 1960s America as well as the experiences of a few men in Hopewell who served in Vietnam, several of whom also perform the role of surrogate father to her. Within this group of veterans, Mason poses those men who survived the war psychologically intact against those who were effectively emasculated by it and continue to suffer from PTSD. Earl, exemplifying the middle ground of survival, asserts that “ ‘You never forget it, but you go on living. You have to. You have to think of the future. [. . .] you can’t live in the past’ ” (In Country 113). At the extreme, disturbingly normalized end of the spectrum, another vet, Pete, admits that “ ‘I enjoyed it. I felt good over there. I knew what I was doing. [. . .] The war would have been fine if they’d let us win it’ ” (134). The two men with whom Sam most identifies, however, live in a suspended state of trauma. Most notable is her maternal uncle, Emmett, whom she views as “like a brother” (24) but who has functioned toward her as a father, a role he feels he has failed, telling her, “ ‘I want to be a father. But I can’t’ ” (225, italics in original). Emmett returns from the war directionless, suffering from survivor’s guilt—“embarrassed that [he was] still alive” (67)—committed to suppressing his memories of Vietnam, yet unable to shake off the past. The other veteran to whom Sam draws close, Tom, suffers from physical impotence, which literalizes the emasculation caused by the war and the erasure of the father’s authority that Sam wishes Dwayne had held in relation

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to her. Tom, whom Sam turns into an erotic object by way of displaced father-love, straddles opposing positions, suffering from survivor’s guilt but also feeling “homesick” for the memories of Vietnam, especially of the “ ‘buddies that didn’t come back’ ” (78). Sam seeks among these figures for a sense of what a “father” might be, but none really brings her close to Dwayne as a real personage in time, nor do they provide the symbolic role of fatherly guidance or sense of place to which she aspires—the Logos, as Ryan calls it. In her efforts toward postmemory, Sam also seeks beyond her immediate acquaintance within American culture as a whole for clues to the story of Vietnam and its context. As a number of commentators note, Mason interweaves a thick layer of allusions to popular culture within Sam’s consciousness.6 “Sam longed for the sixties” (123), the narrator notes, focalized within her perspective; and from the beginning, a strong bond between Sam and Emmett is forged by mediated culture: “They liked the same music— mostly golden oldies” (24); and they watch hours of television together, especially M*A*S*H, the comedy about the Korean War running from 1972 to 1983 that, adapted from Robert Altman’s film released in 1970 at the height of the war, presented a thinly disguised take on the “in country” experience of Vietnam. As critics also point out, the highly mediated representation of history that Sam consumes and takes as “knowledge” from mass culture is inaccurate, its images and discourses bringing her up short against irresolvable “questions [. . .] regarding truth and representation” (McDermott 11); as Hinrichsen explains, “the conventions of television and mass media have come to inform the expectations and assumptions she brings with her to her search for the ‘real’ of Vietnam” (242). Indeed, writing during a time of intellectual ferment over the very nature of representation—from Marshall McLuhan’s fundamental insights about media to Hayden White’s about the narrative construction of history—Mason seems to have written In Country from a standpoint highly inflected by the increasingly poignant retreat of “reality” from “representation.”7 The wedge between signifier and signified makes the construction of postmemory all the more fraught a process. Because other scholars, such as Hinrichsen, McDermott, Meyer, and Price, have written perceptively and thoroughly about Mason’s use of references to mass culture at once to shape and hinder Sam’s efforts at “accurate” postmemory, I will not rehearse the analyses. Suffice it to say that these artifacts of visual, auditory, and narrative mediation bring her no closer to the quarry of her quest than the father surrogates she constructs. Instead, the remainder of the discussion of Mason focuses on three major movements or episodes enacting Sam’s postmemory, toward which In Country builds: first, her ambiguous, disillusioning encounters with objects—her father’s photo, letters, and diary; second, her misguided fantasy of reenacting her father’s experience “in country” in Vietnam, in which Sam imagines she takes on the “real” of her father’s subjectivity; and third, ambiguously redemptive, the episode in which she completes her travel to

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the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, to confront her father’s name and her own on the wall, seeking a fetish substitute for the missing father. Mason moves Sam outward, from intimate contact with her father’s actual (discursive) “remains,” through a process of imaginary identification heavily inflected by mediated stories, toward a vision filled with nothing but signifiers, in a rather stark confrontation with herself in place of her father. In the first stage of Sam’s process, Mason has her encounter a series of objects that would seem to possess the mystifying touch of Dwayne’s life or hand, much like the aura surrounding original works of art as described by Walter Benjamin.8 According to Hirsch’s account of the construction of postmemory, such objects promise Sam legitimate sources from which to make memories about her father and her origins. The first object with which Mason confronts Sam is potentially the most immediate: a photo of Dwayne in his uniform. She keeps the photo between the leaves of the Collegiate Dictionary her mother has given her for her high school graduation—as if the photo were lodged usefully in the site of knowledge, its image prepared to yield up Dwayne’s secrets to expression. That promise is frustrated, however. Sam sees a thin “boy” of nineteen, barely older than she is, with a blemished nose and ears that stick out; the narrator, within Sam’s perspective, concludes, “She couldn’t see any resemblance to him” (In Country 58). The photograph fails to possess the fully doubled and ambiguous “indexical nature” of the Holocaust photos Hirsch analyzes. Sam finds a face, with a history, but both remain blank and atemporal for her. This may result from Sam’s implicit desires; the scene reveals how she is seeking not so much to learn who Dwayne was, but instead to identify with him, to find him in herself and herself in him, a search she will again try to exercise later during her “in country” fantasy. The subsequent two stages of this sequence of Sam’s encounter with Dwayne’s material remains depend for their meaning on opposition to one another. Sam first reads the letters Dwayne sent home from the war, and for her these are marked by his naivete, sentimentality, and refusal to represent who he “really” is. Among the first things she notices are his “childish handwriting” (179), his assumption that the operations in Vietnam will be “a snap,” his desire for Irene to “be proud of me” (180), his tendency to be “excessively cheerful” or to sound “like a preacher” (181), and his disinclination to say anything about Vietnam. He apparently tries to perform the dominant fiction of masculinity for the audience at home. Sam finds the letters “strangely frivolous” (182); the only part that really interests her is his suggestion that Irene’s baby be named either Samuel or Samantha, but this discovery leads to her feeling “cheated” in surmising that “He was counting on a boy” (182)—his own fantasies of fatherhood caught up in the myth of patrilineal power. Sam concludes that “The dead took their secrets with them” (182), and she takes Dwayne’s blandness and blankness as a personal affront, as if “he

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[were] playing a joke on her, [. . .] saying, ‘Know me if you can’ ” (183). Her resentment at being thwarted seems to reverse when her grandmother later gives her Dwayne’s diary, which expresses his fears and privations in the field and recounts the losses of men, and which makes the war now seem “so real it enveloped her, like something rotten she had fallen into” (206). That is, she takes the diary as more “real” than the letters regarding Dwayne’s experiences. She assumes that the difference in audience—Dwayne writing publicly to family members as opposed to privately to himself—is a key to the honesty of his discourse. Insofar as the diary seems to her the truthful expression of Dwayne’s character, it threatens to puncture the father fantasy for her. Sam’s reading of Dwayne in the diary—when he expresses detached curiosity, for example, over the body of “a dead gook rotting under some leaves” (203), and a similar detachment over the ease of his first killing of a Vietnamese—nauseates her, in part because “she realized her own insensitive curiosity was just like her father’s” (205).9 In the mirror of Dwayne’s confessional writing, Sam seems to find herself reflected at last—and does not like what she sees. Yet Sam fails to read the more complex lesson in the juxtaposition of the letters to the diary—that each is a construction of Dwayne’s experience, addressing its audience for one effect or another—and that each is at once true and not true. Her inclination to read the one as truth and the other as a concealing fabrication registers her naive assumption that a clearly demarcated divide between the “real” and the “imaginary” exists. In summarizing how the diary disgusts Sam, the focalizing narrator notes, “she had a morbid imagination, but it had always been like a horror movie, not something real” (206). Sam has faith that she is mature and can distinguish her imagination from reality. In fact, she tends to conflate them. She acts out this confusion—revealing it to herself and the reader—in the second major episode that advances Sam’s quest for identification with her father, when she attempts to relive Dwayne’s experience of being “[i]n country” (210) near a local pond. Furious at the detached violence she has discerned in Dwayne’s diary— “Men were nostalgic about killing. It aroused something in them” (209)— Sam shifts self-protectively toward a different way of knowing her father, through vicariously re-experiencing what he may have encountered in the field. Her flight to Cawood’s Pond expresses an unarticulated desire to construct an alternative, perhaps explanatory, postmemory—one that might exonerate Dwayne of the amoral discourse of the diary and reinvest his image with the idealized attributes of the father fantasy. She sees herself as “a runaway,” going to spend the night at the pond, because “She knew that whenever she had tried to imagine Vietnam she had had her facts all wrong.” She thinks this exercise will approximate being in the jungle, “Humping the boonies” (210), and allow her to “face facts” (211) that she believes have been suppressed by the vets and the objects associated with Dwayne.

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Mason moves the free indirect discourse fully into Sam’s fantasy in this episode, toward an imaginary identification with her father’s subjectivity, so that she sees herself “follow[ing] a path through the jungle”: “She had to walk carefully. She was walking point. The cypress knees were like land mines” (211). Sam enters the fantasy wholly, assuming the position of masculine capability, hearing threatening voices, taking a raccoon as “a V.C.” (213), fashioning a faux weapon at a fearful moment, and listening to the “rockand-roll sounds of war” (214). The last reference, however, reinforces the occasional hints she expresses during the episode of the unbridgeable distance between the pond and Vietnam, unmasking how her fantasy is wholly mediated by the narratives of mass culture. Mason makes the displaced, secondary nature of Sam’s fantasy explicit: “The soundtrack in the back of her mind, she realized, was from Apocalypse Now” (215). As Hinrichsen explains, Sam encounters “how fantasy maintains the ‘real’ through stylized means” (242)—styled by the clichés of pop culture. The end of the episode confirms the futility and absurdity of Sam’s exercise in sympathetic identification with Dwayne’s unknown experience when the rustlings and footsteps she imagines to be a rapist turn out to be Emmett, in worried pursuit of her. Emmett flatly dismisses the simulacrum she has invented, saying “‘This ain’t a jungle. It’s a swamp’” (In Country 219). Essentially, Sam has worked within a closed loop of images alternately idealized and diabolical. The only postmemory she devises is a memory of the media she has consumed, which may touch little or not at all upon her father’s lived memories. The simulacrum of a quest Sam performs in this episode seems to be countered by the actual journey she undertakes with Emmett and Mamaw, her father’s mother, to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. On approaching the Memorial, she feels apprehension and ambivalence, wanting to run both toward and away from it, signaling both fear of and attraction to some dark knowledge, a response perhaps also shaped by her encounters with a mediated “past.” Beginning at last to understand “Emmett’s suffering,” that he “has been grieving for fourteen years” (241), she also realizes that “she will never really know what happened to all these men in the war” (240). When she can at last run her hand over the carving of Dwayne’s name, she anticipates a revelation, but instead her objectifying response resembles what occurred when she read her father’s diary: the name is merely “A scratching on a rock. Writing. Something for future archaeologists to puzzle over, clues to a language” (244). “Dwayne E. Hughes” (243) is nothing more than another blank signifier, an empty vessel of history—what Ryan aptly calls “the purest mise en abyme” (210). The name is a fetish object that reveals its failure to be what it stands for. And though she expresses sorrow in tears, when Mamaw snaps a photograph of Sam in front of Dwayne’s name, the narrator describes that “Sam feels her face looking blank” (In Country 244)—as if reproducing the blankness that she has found in seeking him. When Mamaw creates her own postmemory by way of the photo,

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meaning to register a trace of her son’s presence, she unwittingly puts her finger on the epistemological, even ontological, ambiguity built into the memorial’s polished surface when she says, “ ‘All I can see here is my reflection’ ” (244). The viewer looks at a loved one’s name, but the viewer’s face is superimposed over it—one’s own history and identity interfere in the moment of contact, obscuring the object of desire and its history, mirroring the inquiring and desiring self back at itself. Mason reinforces the ambiguity of Sam’s approach to her origins in the final act in which the narrative engages her. Looking for her father’s name in the Memorial’s directory, she sees “her own name leap[ing] out at her.” But although the name she sees is “Sam Alan Hughes,” the narrator notes that she races to the relevant spot and “locates her own name,” which is “SAM A HUGHES” (244). Sam erases the difference between the name’s referent and herself; so as not to let the reader miss the point, Mason repeats the identification in a declarative sentence: “She touches her own name” (245).10 Appearing at the resolution of the novel, the scene reiterates that Sam largely seeks herself, not her father as a subject in himself, nor the history he represents as a discursive object outside her own immediate past. The soldier entombed here remains forever still unknown, as is his war. Not only is the Dead Father beyond reach—as Barthelme has it, “[d]ead but still with us, still with us, but dead” (3)—but also the reach is far more inward than outward. Furthermore, the name Sam touches is not her name, although the signifiers would seem to be hers. It is a simulacrum of her identity, of the name that connects her to her paternal line, but it names someone else, in a trick of false referentiality. The name is like a one-way mirror through which Sam cannot see anything or anyone but her narrow selfhood. Even what seems most “real”—the magnificent, solemn solidity of the marble monument—is nothing but a black gap of history and identity. Emmett has it right when he asserts, “ ‘You can’t learn from the past. The main thing you learn from history is that you can’t learn from history. That’s what history is’ ” (226, italics in original). There is no memory here, no authority or Logos, nothing to remember but deceptively legible scratching on a rock.

Tim O’Brien Among the Missing— In the Lake of the Woods The notion of deceptive legibility might also characterize both the narrative form and the protagonist, John Wade, of Tim O’Brien’s 1994 novel In the Lake of the Woods. In Country links Sam’s quest for her father’s story to the larger history of the soldiers’ experience in the Vietnam War, as evidenced by Dwayne’s letters and diary, the Hopewell veterans’ accounts of their experience, and the monumental representation of the ultimate sacrifice

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memorialized in Washington. O’Brien’s novel, however, complicates the linkage and, more fundamentally, the very nature of historical storytelling that might attempt to capture that experience. Emmett’s assertion that “you can’t learn from history” still presupposes that “history,” as an account of the past, remains an objective possibility, however elusive and unhelpful for individual action. In the Lake of the Woods, however, makes the possibility of “history” recede ever further from the grasp of protagonist, narrator, and reader alike. The novel does so by way of its central character’s deceptions of himself and others, its overtly problematic presentation of traumatic memory, its multiple tropes for the inaccessibility of knowledge, and, generally, its postmodern formal strategies, which at once install and undercut narrative explanation. O’Brien’s fictional forms are thus illuminated by Linda Hutcheon’s theory of historiographic metafiction, a narrative form that, she finds, “suggests that to re-write or to re-present the past [. . . is] to open it up to the present, to prevent it from being conclusive and teleological” (110). Hutcheon notes that historiographic metafiction’s “emphasis on its enunciative situation—text, producer, receiver, historical, and social context—reinstalls a kind of (very problematic) communal project” (115). Such a project appears in the multiple and conflicting forms and voices within which In the Lake of the Woods inscribes John Wade’s deceptively legible “history.” As several critics argue, O’Brien’s novel takes up the problem of “history,” embodied by the contested history of the American entanglement in Vietnam, in a way that Mason’s novel mostly just suggests.11 For O’Brien, as for Mason, the unreadable father lies not only at the origin of their identities, but also at the source of their traumas. But whereas Dwayne Hughes is a complete mystery to his daughter, absent since before her birth, Wade’s father is nominally present to him until he dies when John is in his mid-teens. And whereas Sam seeks to find her identity within and disclosed by the father she never perceives directly, John Wade seeks to find a different father from the one he has perceived, a father who would bestow on him the unconditional love he feels he has been denied. Paul Wade is an enduring mystery to his son—cruel to him, whether intentionally or not, and effectively absent, distanced from his son by despair and alcoholism, whose secrets Paul never divulges, and cut off forever from affection, explanation, or reconciliation when he hangs himself in their garage. “What was it exactly? And why didn’t anything ever please him, or make him smile, or stop the drinking?” (O’Brien, Lake 209, italics in original), the narrator plaintively remarks, from John’s point of view. Paul’s suicide appears to teach John the possibilities of violence as a means to eradicate one’s personal pain and stands not only as the initiating incident in John’s traumatic memory but also the fundamental gap in his knowledge. Paul Wade’s death becomes, within John’s ongoing life story, the subject of traumatic repetition in keeping with the narrative of trauma described by theorists since the 1990s, wherein the traumatized person, who lives stalled temporally within

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the moment of traumatic experience, repeatedly reenacts the event without truly remembering it.12 Paul Wade’s violent originary act sets his son off on a trajectory of violence and secrecy that, in turn, demarcates O’Brien’s allegory of late-twentieth-century American history. Because John Wade’s relationship to memory is fraught, the narrative of postmemory in In the Lake of the Woods is more layered than it is in In Country. Sam, as I have suggested, overtly seeks to construct postmemory out of the fragments of Dwayne’s past and mediated representations of the war. John Wade does nothing of the sort. Because he has, according to Freud’s repetition compulsion, repeated in action, perhaps unconsciously, the traumatic violence located at his psychic origins, he engages in a classic psychoanalytic process of repressing memories. As the narrative gradually unfolds his story, the reader learns that in Wade’s Vietnam past, he participated in what, extratextually, became known as the My Lai massacre of 1968, in a hamlet to which the novel refers as Thuan Yen. The “present” of the narrative introduces another possible—but permanently unconfirmed—traumatic repetition, involving the disappearance of John’s wife, Kathy, from a vacation cabin in northern Minnesota near the Lake of the Woods. Although traumatic memories do at times escape Wade’s psychic censor, his many strategies to evade memory appear in the narrator’s discourse according to a network of tropes focused on deception and power. Significantly, O’Brien creates the pretense of an extradiegetic narrative context for Wade’s story, framing it as a “biography” that has been obsessively researched by an anonymous but increasingly confiding, personalized narrator. I suggest that, in his equally obsessive efforts to tell Wade’s story, the narrator is the figure who most pressingly seeks in this novel to construct postmemory of Wade’s traumatic experience—during the war and as a consequence of it—and like Sam Hughes, out of the “objects” of story fragments and textual allusions. O’Brien is of course best known for his books about the experience of American soldiers in Vietnam, beginning with his memoir of the year he spent “in country,” If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1973), followed by the magical realist novel, Going After Cacciato (1978), and the novel-in-stories, The Things They Carried (1990). Because In the Lake of the Woods, unlike these prior books, is set in the early 1990s, it is not technically a “Vietnam War novel.” Yet the war serves as Wade’s deepest and most pervasive narrative secret—in the harrowing memories that arise piecemeal at various points to disrupt the narrative of the present and the segments of backstory regarding John and Kathy’s marriage, and that are narrated more continuously beginning a third of the way through the novel, in a chapter titled “The Nature of the Beast.” How John Wade entered the war, to find himself a perpetrator in the midst of a massacre, can be traced to his troubled memories of his father, also revealed in fragments. Wade’s mental path between events establishes that the functioning of memory itself is as much his trauma as what he remembers.

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In the Lake of the Woods appears in a distinctively fragmented and multifaceted form, in keeping with the “biographer”/narrator’s quest for Wade’s “history.” O’Brien composes several different chapter forms that interweave throughout the novel: chapters focused on the present, titled in a quasi-interrogative “Who/What/How” format that comes closest to conventional narrative storytelling and explanation; “Evidence” chapters with seemingly random but in fact topically related quotations from personal and printed sources, some fictive and others extradiegetically extant, as well as catalogues of items, all presented without comment or transition, whose juxtapositions construct a patchwork image of Wade’s past; “Hypothesis” chapters offering vastly different speculations about Kathy’s disappearance, carefully reasoned in a conditional discourse dotted with “maybes” and “perhapses” that, according to the fundamentally realistic mode of the novel, seem to give way to persuasive accounts; and “The Nature of . . .” chapters focused on abstract concepts or metaphors, which are exemplified either explicitly or implicitly by Wade’s backstory. Each form offers a different way of reasoning toward an explanatory narrative history. Each in its own way, however, also undercuts its epistemological project with gaps, instabilities, and contradictions that, according to O’Brien’s postmodern poetics of narrative, underscore the impossibility of constructing a positivist historical account even of an individual’s life. As Timothy Melley suggests, in connecting personal to collective narratives, O’Brien’s forms show how “the truth of events is always out of reach, obscured by failures of memory, falsified documents, and misleading testimony,” leading him to claim that the novel offers a “traumatic model of history,” in which “physical or emotional wounds distort or destroy memories” (121, italics in original). The trauma that begins with the father’s effective absence ends with the erasure of the past. The first reference to Paul Wade appears in an “Evidence” chapter, quoting John’s mother, Eleanor, who immediately identifies painful aspects to the father/son relationship responsible for the son’s conflicted feelings:13 John “was husky. [. . .] sometimes I think his father made him feel [. . .] overweight. [. . .] His father teased him quite a lot. Constant teasing, you could say” (Lake 10). The narrator later notes that Paul called his son “Jiggling John” and belittled his interest in learning to perform magic tricks, saying “ ‘That pansy magic crap. What’s wrong with baseball, some regular exercise? [. . .] Blubby little pansy’ ” (67). Paul’s emotional abuse zeroes in on what he sees as failures in John’s performance of masculinity according to the dominant fiction. Paul’s treatment of his son in these terms no doubt explains the scene conveying John’s small oedipal vindication when, in an atypically generous gesture, his father takes him to a magic store. The young John embarrasses his reluctant father into saving face by putting his arm into a trick contrivance, the “ ‘Guillotine of Death’ ” (69), to test it out; the narrator, in a line of free indirect discourse from John’s perspective, asserts, “Power: that was the thing about magic” (71).

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Figuratively, magic allows him briefly to taste the patriarch’s power to castrate. Even the first reference to his father focalized from John’s perspective conveys ambivalent feelings. When, at fourteen, he learns that his father has died, “What John felt that night, and for many nights afterward, was the desire to kill. [. . . to] kill his father for dying,” and yet almost immediately he begins “to pretend that his father was not truly dead” (14), talking to him, looking “in his memory over all the places his father might be,” even though he knows “It was only a game, or a way of coping” (15). He turns memory into a game of manipulation and deception, a rewriting of the past to conceal not only the reality of his father’s death but also his own complicated feelings about the man who failed to give him a sense of positive selfhood and security because the boy was unable to fulfill a masculinist image of potency and physical presence. O’Brien thus establishes John’s patterned responses to loss or trauma: to express disproportionate violence but also to pretend, to summon some sort of “magic,” in an act of repression. John’s may appear a predictable response to loss of a loved one—anger and denial—and yet the familial history the novel presents deepens the force of his violent reenactments. John responds to his father for the meanly objectifying treatment of his son; yet to “kill” him for dying seems an excessive thought. Furthermore, the novel repeatedly presents John’s fundamental, unrequited desire for his father’s love, which, according to the prescription for traumatic behavior, he ironically seeks in the very terms of his father’s originary violence. O’Brien implies that, retroactively to compensate for the burden of his father’s disapproval and lack of affection, John enlists in the army and then pursues a political career. His father long dead, he nevertheless desires within his own reckoning to prove his manhood according to the age-old prescription for young men coming of age to take up arms. Were he thereafter to win a high political position, he might not only gain the power over others that could have made his father proud of him, but also would redress the lack of his father’s affection by feeling “loved” by those who voted for him and whom he serves. “More than anything else,” the narrator notes, “John Wade wanted to be loved, and to make his father proud” (208).14 The two desires are inextricable for him. But the war, to begin with, does anything but affirm John’s manhood or bring him the love he seeks. First, as Milton J. Bates points out, “for many the essential Vietnam War story” is “a story of emasculation” (36). Not only were American soldiers for the first time in memory on the losing side of a war, but also, in projecting an image of barbaric, hallucinatory otherness onto Vietnam and its people, they perceived themselves as victimized, their manhood threatened. Second, because of the violence in which Wade participates during the massacre in Thuan Yen, he loses the primary for a Senate seat when the suppressed story reaches the press. Under pressure of both situations, Wade makes recourse to the strategies he devised as a child

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to evade his feelings of powerlessness and emotional starvation. O’Brien depicts these compensatory strategies according to mutually entangled tropes, all of which serve Wade’s process of psychological repression: these include references to pretending, magic tricks, secrets, mirrors, and what O’Brien terms “the glide,” the latter of which especially serves Wade’s compulsion to violence. All of these tropes imply a fundamental self-division within John Wade’s personality, and all give him an illusion of power in keeping with a masculinist ideology within which the least visible power may be the strongest. Melley persuasively argues that The concept of a secret inner life has always been essential to liberal, and especially masculine, subjectivity. The notion that one keeps secrets from oneself [. . .] became culturally viable only with the rise of psychoanalysis. But In the Lake of the Woods extends repression well beyond familiar Freudian ground and into the postmodern territory of robust repression and multiple personality, where one can forget one’s own recent actions wholesale (120–21).15 With the exception of O’Brien’s metaphor of gliding, all of these tropes for deception and the concealed practice of potency emerge in Wade’s consciousness when he is a child responding to his father’s emotional distance and death, suggesting an early split within his subjectivity that enables active forgetting. In the very first quotation appearing from Eleanor Wade, she identifies her son as a “secretive boy” (Lake 8), a characterization O’Brien emphasizes through her repetition (25). Hers is also the voice that first describes how John “used to practice down in the basement, just stand in front of that old mirror of his and do tricks for hours,” even though “[h]is father didn’t think it was healthy” (25). John’s desires are exposed as ironic when the narrator later elaborates on how the goal of his tricks is to gain his father’s attention— but not the disparaging attention he receives. In practicing his magic tricks in front of the mirror, John deceives only himself: “John was no longer a lonely little kid. He had sovereignty over the world. [. . .] Everything was possible, even happiness. [. . .] In the mirror, where John Wade mostly lived, he could read his father’s mind. Simple affection, for instance” (65). The magic tricks convey the power to appear—to create and control reality through illusion, through an orchestrated performance of pretending, and to be visible to another’s act of recognition. That John performs his tricks specifically before a mirror is also ironic. The point of practicing magic before the mirror is to test his skill against reality, to check if he is technically adept enough that a viewer will not detect the sleight-of-hand necessary to the illusion. In such a case, a mirror would offer nothing but a reflection of the real. But O’Brien’s image of the mirror also calls up a constellation of received significations regarding reflected images: that a mirror image is identical to the original, although reversed; that it is a metaphor for referentiality but also for

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discursive reflexivity; and that it is a metaphor for the simultaneous process of identification and recognition, but also of individuation, associated with Lacan’s mirror stage. Each signification, that is, embeds an inherent ambiguity. Yet John Wade’s interpretation of the mirror leans toward erasing the essential dualities of those meanings. He does expect that the “real” will appear in the mirror, at one point telling Kathy that he is afraid to look at himself in a mirror for fear he will not find himself there (74). His fear, however, largely expresses a kind of narcissistic reversion to the infantile state before the mirror stage: he does not wish to recognize any other beside himself, to acknowledge his singularity and thereby individuate himself into an ethically obligated subject among many others. Instead, Wade mostly experiences the internalized mirror—the “mirrors in his head” (50)—as an escape from reality, not a reflection of it. The reversed image for him is not just the real turned around. Instead, it is an idealization, detached from reference to personal or collective history. John’s internal mirrors replace reality and his memories of it with blanks—gaps that enable him to “see” himself as cleansed of wrongdoing, almost as prelapsarian: “Long ago, as a kid,” the narrator conjectures, “he’d learned the secret of making his mind into a blackboard. Erase the bad stuff. Draw in pretty new pictures” (133)— the process O’Brien literalizes when, before leaving Vietnam, Wade erases his name from the official documents that might link him to the massacre at Thuan Yen. Accordingly, when the novel narrates the most hideously graphic images of the massacre, Wade—known to his fellow soldiers only as “Sorcerer”—takes “refuge behind the mirrors” (210). The same thing happens during Wade’s narrative recursions to Kathy’s disappearance, when, likewise, the “mirrors in his head” (49) allow him to forget what happened that night. These tropes all signify Wade’s split self, what Barbara Kowalczuk perceptively identifies as a “mise en abyme” resulting from “post-traumatic cognitive dissonance,” in which “Wade is often caught in an uncanny act of disidentification, observing himself as if he were standing in an imaginary hall of mirrors, rationalizing his past acts and experiences while perceiving from a distance a duplicated reflection of his own fallacious self” (4). Wade’s cognitive splitting of himself is projected into his actions by his recourse to an additional trope, the image O’Brien calls “the glide,” most succinctly expressed when “He felt himself glide away” (Lake 272). The metaphor of the glide brings to the fore the question of the degree to which Wade’s secrets, occlusions, and tricks are fully conscious and intentional; it implies an action that seems almost to emerge from autonomic reflexes rather than volition. Although his strategies respond to conventional narratives of traumatic repression, they also arise with telling coincidence at the moments when he is potentially most morally compromised—most, as he names himself to Kathy, “ ‘Mr. Monster’ ” (21). Wade repeatedly enters “the glide” in Vietnam: during one encounter with the Viet Cong, “He’d lost touch with his own volition, his own arms and legs, and [. . .] would remember how he

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seemed to glide toward the enemy position” (40); at Thuan Yen, deep within the chaos and carnage, “for a while Sorcerer let himself glide away. All he could do was close his eyes and kneel there and wait for whatever was wrong with the world to right itself” (108). When, back in the United States and jealously spying on Kathy at college before telling her that he has returned, the narrator observes in free indirect discourse that “He was still gliding” (42). And when, after Kathy’s disappearance from the northern Minnesota cabin, Wade lingers in the cabin before reporting her as missing, “for a considerable time he permitted himself the luxury of forgetfulness, no lists, no future at all, just the glide, exploring the void” (80). The glide, which suggests movement, is paradoxically like a still moment, outside time, and in that regard ironically comparable to a moment of trauma. But instead of being a residuum of memory, it is a void of memory, a static condition lying outside moral and psychological awareness in which Wade has gone beyond perceiving himself even from a distance. The metaphor of the glide thus perhaps most pointedly stands for the anti-historical thrust of the narrative’s uncertainties. Given the blankness of Wade’s own traumatic memory, the quest O’Brien sets his narrator/“biographer” to reconstruct Wade’s story—both his backstory and his present plight, with Kathy now as the traumatic gap in his history—seems quixotic at best. But the narrator, himself a fiction, gradually reveals his deep investment in Wade’s story through the paratextual device of footnotes attached to the “Evidence” chapters and the final “Hypothesis” chapter. His obsessive interest seems motivated by the fact that he, too, served a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1969, during the year after Wade (199)— indeed, Kathy’s sister accuses the narrator of being “obsessed” with Wade’s story (191). The narrator offers few specific details of his own time “in country,” beyond a few titillating hints that he may have experienced events resembling Wade’s: “as a terrified young PFC,” he writes, “I too could taste the sunlight. I could smell the sin. I could feel the butchery sizzling like grease just under my eyeballs” (199). Was he solely a witness, as implied by the metaphor of vision, or a perpetrator, implied by the sizzling butchery? O’Brien increasingly invites the reader toward the latter interpretation, as when the narrator confesses in another footnote, “I have my own secrets, my own trapdoors. I know something about deceit” (295), or “I have my own PFC Weatherby,” the American soldier Wade kills at Thuan Yen (298). Yet O’Brien also keeps the narrative suspended, as when the narrator recounts visiting the memorial to the Son My massacre “in the course of research for this book,” where he readily finds “[t]he ditch”: “Just five or six feet deep, shallow and unimposing, yet it was as if I had been there before, in my dreams, or in some other life” (146, italics added). The narrator’s search for evidence of Wade’s life story and multiple conjectures and rewritings of it may reflect a close identification with Wade’s trauma, sin, and guilt, suggested in these few, seductive, paratextual traces. O’Brien all

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too obviously tempts us to read the reference to “dreams” or “some other life” as signifying the narrator’s own psychic state of traumatic fragmentation and repression; a reader is just barely deflected by the “as if” from reading this as a disguised confession of the narrator’s own brutalities. O’Brien’s forms and statements play with the reader, causing us to ask just whose traumatic memories are the narrative fodder—Wade’s, the narrator’s, or even O’Brien’s. Indeed, some critics have argued for an autobiographical source in O’Brien’s construction of the narrator. Heberle finds O’Brien suggesting in an interview that “Wade’s secrets are a revision of his own” (253) and argues that the narrator “is a persona of O’Brien” (248), and Herzog, based on an interview he conducted with O’Brien, draws numerous connections between the fiction and O’Brien’s personal story (Tim O’Brien 4). Melley specifically argues for a close identification crossing diegetic layers of In the Lake of the Woods: “By the end of the novel, Wade, the narrator, and O’Brien have all begun to morph into one another” (127). Melley supports his insights with evidence from two extratextual sources, essays published by O’Brien around the time of the novel’s composition, “The Magic Show” (1991) and “The Vietnam in Me” (1994). But it is not necessary to commit the autobiographical fallacy in reading the narrative, on either the diegetic or extradiegetic levels, for the reader to discern how the narrator’s absorption in Wade’s story suggests the desire of a subject to construct a postmemory of the traumatic life of someone whose life is deeply meaningful to that subject— rather as Sam tried to reconstruct Dwayne’s story. In this case, the life story at issue is one that may in significant ways parallel the subject’s, or, to the contrary, it may be one onto which the subject has projected his own longings and memories. When O’Brien’s narrator claims that the purpose of the book may be “To remind me. To give me back my vanished life” (298), one could argue either that his life has “vanished” into repressed memories of his own violence—or else, as for the children of Holocaust survivors, that it has done so under the shadow of others’ unspeakable, unnarrated experiences. In either case, as Hirsch suggests, postmemory involves the construction and telling of a story more intimate than exists in what we think of simply as “history.” The confluence of potential narrating subjects created by O’Brien’s forms unsettles the apparent distinction between the narrative “I” appearing in the footnotes and the third-person references to Wade in the rest of the narrative. But without making the case for identity rather than similitude among all three voices, levels, and subjects, it remains the case that the novel is profoundly dialogical and indeterminate in how the different forms comment upon or respond to or even ignore and overwrite each other. And that, in turn, raises the question of narrative authority. Who, in fact, assumes the power of storytelling over the war and its traumas, a power over the discourse of self and history typically associated with a patriarchal position? As Clara Juncker points out, In the Lake of the Woods “breaks down the patriarchal correlation of masculinity and knowledge” as its postmodern

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form “subverts the linear, coherent and logically organized narrative that poststructuralists associate with the Law of the Father” (117). Instead of inscribing an “objective” biography, the narrator’s quest moves increasingly into overtly subjective statements—especially evident in his Nabokovian repudiation of the “objectivity” of the academic form of the footnote.16 As the “I” emerges more distinctly, the fictional paratextual fragments also increasingly drive the reader out of the illusion created by the “Who/What/ How,” “Nature of . . .,” and even, strangely enough, “Hypothesis” chapters, toward a completely unstable sense of the “history” being recounted—and hence, of any wider History possible about the war in Vietnam.17 The father’s originary traumatizing absence thus seems responsible, if initially only indirectly and symbolically, for the voiding not only of memory and identity, but also of the historical narratives within which an authentic—or at least authorized—identity might find purchase. O’Brien finds in Vietnam—the place, the history, the idea, the violence, the occasion for American arrogance and error—an overdetermined symbol for traumatic memory and, in turn, an allegory for the construction of an account about the always receding, elusive, unknowable past. Vietnam remains, as Juncker suggests, “the absent center of In the Lake of the Woods” (116). But at a prior level, the absent center is also the father—as well as the Father he represents in Western culture: the mystified source of order, reason, and “civilization,” the stay against violence, the standard and enforcer of morality. The “father” thus also stands for the myth of righteous American power and exceptionalism—the myth that was punctured by the dirty secrets uncovered in the US experience of the Vietnam War. In this regard, Samuel Cohen’s argument about the novel’s presentation of unbridgeable gaps in knowledge— in “Wade’s amnesia and the narrator’s failure”—is salutary. The novel’s “absence of resolution,” Cohen suggests, need not be read only as “an expression of postmodern radical skepticism” but may be seen instead “to call attention to the persistence of our desire to close these gaps, to capture the truth about the past and to move on” in a “desire for closure that characterizes triumphalist narrative” (128).18 Such a triumphalist narrative, which Cohen associates with the end of the Cold War at the time of O’Brien’s writing of the novel, assumes not only that a story can be told, but also that it will be a story of national (or individual) healing. And that the (dead) Father, like the myth that supports him, thereby regains control over the story. The fallacies in such a vision may seem ironic only in retrospect. But they also point to an additional gap in O’Brien’s narrative—and that is the way in which the novel largely elides another “other” in the text beyond the unknowable Wade: the Vietnamese Other. It is the figure wholly absent in Mason’s novel, where Sam responds with disgust to Dwayne’s crass objectification of the Vietnamese enemy as “gook” (In Country 203) but keeps her feelings largely focused on herself. O’Brien is by no means oblivious to this gap of representation, as his shockingly detailed account of the My

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Lai massacre suggests. In “The Vietnam in Me,” written after he revisited the site in 1994 where his unit was posted one year after the massacre of which they were yet unaware, O’Brien writes that “From my own sliver of experience [. . .] I can testify to the lasting anonymity of a great many Vietnamese dead” and expresses outrage at “the stunning, almost cartoonish narcissism of American policy” and the “American public that embraces and breathes life into the policy” (“Vietnam” 12).19 But even as he brings this gap to light, his narrative purposes and perspectives also cause the novel to reinstall it, largely representing the Vietnamese as mystifying objects: “The enemy was invisible,” the narrator notes. “They were ghosts. They killed us with land mines and booby traps; they disappeared into the night [. . .] The unknown, the unknowable. The blank faces. The overwhelming otherness” (Lake 199). If O’Brien’s quotation of Jay Robert Nash in the final “Evidence” chapter is persuasive—that “Writers . . . have an obsession with missing persons” (295, ellipsis in original)—it remains for Viet Thanh Nguyen, more than twenty years later, to find the other missing persons in the story of the Vietnam War, in order to fill this gap of memory and representation.

Viet Thanh Nguyen and Traumatic Representation—The Sympathizer O’Brien’s layering of the epistemological uncertainties in his novel, wherein the narrator’s instability is reciprocal with Wade’s, places the reader, too, in a wholly indeterminate space. Any moderately coherent narrative constructed from the fragments and glimpses of events must thus be produced by the confluence of seemingly random information and the perspective from which it is viewed. When O’Brien’s narrator writes, in a late chapter titled “The Nature of the Angle,” about the appearance of the Lake of the Woods as the seasonal light strikes it, his statement bears a Thoreauvian weight of figurative meanings: “The angle shapes reality” (Lake 288). The angle from which the puzzle of postpatriarchal, post-traumatic postmemory is assembled becomes the single most important feature of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning first novel, The Sympathizer (2015)—and that is because he introduces racial difference into the perspective shaping individual and collective remembering in the United States. As a result, The Sympathizer retrospectively casts light on an assumption that is buried within much of the fiction I have discussed in this study, as well as within my own treatment of it: how these familial configurations, tropes, and narrative trajectories depend on assuming that whiteness invisibly constructs the identities and opportunities of the characters. Nguyen opens his novel in the voice of his first-person narrator: “I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am

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also a man of two minds. [. . .] I am simply able to see any issue from both sides” (Nguyen, Sympathizer 1). In this primary act of simultaneous selfidentification and disguise, Nguyen establishes principal features of the novel. First, as in O’Brien’s novel, is the fundamental unreliability of his narrator, who, nameless throughout, is referred to only as “the Captain,” whose narration is presented as a confession to an unnamed Commandant. Second are the figurative patterns—images of doubleness and duplicity and the riddle of sameness vs. otherness—altogether, a multilayered set of binaries that construct the subjectivity of the narrator and the split, racially hybridized world he inhabits.20 His fragmentation and duality are traceable to his origins as a Eurasian “bastard”—a name many have called him since his childhood (19)—and figuratively embody the contested history of twentieth-century Vietnam. In the guise of his two-faced narrator, Nguyen, like O’Brien but from a very different angle, brings forward the problem of veracious storytelling, specifically of the history of the war in Vietnam and the narrator’s place within it. Nguyen makes the problem urgent because the narrator occupies the position of “other” relative to those who have typically told the story before. Nguyen’s project is to pry the untold Vietnamese story of the Vietnam War, a history to which the Vietnamese rightfully refer as the American War, out of American fiction and culture of the postwar period. He aims to provide, as he told an interviewer, an “intervention” in the limited “American point of view,” to show “non-Western characters” with “the same kind of flawed subjectivities that are normally reserved in the West for the West,” and to suggest “that the Vietnamese people bear a great deal of responsibility for what happened in Vietnam” (“Novel Intervention” 66). He wishes, that is, to resituate the story of the war in Vietnam within Vietnam—to fill the absent center created by the Western evacuation of “Vietnam” into an abstraction. He does so by inventing an interstitial protagonist/narrator, the “illegitimate” “half-breed [. . .] Eurasian” (Sympathizer 21, 20) son of a white French missionary and a Vietnamese woman he raped when she was thirteen. This is a father whose absence is wholly volitional, the product of moral blindness and bigotry, not of a damaged emotional life. The Captain’s mixed origins, narrative and ethnic positions, and national bifurcation—he is an American-educated Communist mole working for a South Vietnamese general—allegorize the contested history Nguyen wishes to explore, shaped by such oppositions as West vs. East, North vs. South, personal confession vs. national history, dialogic vs. monologic storytelling, guilt vs. innocence. By presenting the failure of the French priest to recognize the narrator as his son, echoed discursively in the narrator’s refusal to name himself within his own narrative, Nguyen figuratively uncovers an ontological and ethical problem at the heart of the historical problem. Recognition acknowledges the authority and agency of the other; failure to recognize the other practices violence upon individuals as well as peoples. “All anyone ever wants is to be

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recognized and remembered,” the narrator remarks. “Neither is possible without the other” (222; italics in original). Without such recognition, an agent of storytelling cannot begin to represent the other as anything but a narcissistic projection of the storyteller’s fantasies and perceived histories. “The unseen,” he says, “is almost always underlined with the unsaid” (147). The problem of representation is for Nguyen at the core of the violence perpetrated against the Vietnamese, in both personal and cultural terms. Representation is thus his central concern in constructing the postmemory of The Sympathizer. He manifests this concern in many ways, two of which will focus the discussion in this chapter: generally, through the novel’s thick texture of allusion to Western high and popular culture, within which the narrator rewrites history through irony and parody; and specifically, through a lengthy, narratively disruptive set-piece dedicated to the making of a film that refers unmistakably to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, the vivid, controversial, best-known postwar cinematic “representation” of the war in Vietnam. Nguyen’s fictionalized historiography thus offers a displaced oedipal patricide against the narrator’s father and the paternalistic Western culture for which he stands—as revenge against and reparation for misrepresentation and lack of recognition, and for consigning him irrevocably to the role of a “bastard.” The role of bastard is of course the condition that most troubles— and flouts—the authority of patrilineage. Bastards give the lie to the genealogical imperative. Bastards bring down kingdoms—and complicate the father fantasy—by destabilizing lines of affiliation and succession. Bastards have the capacity to do violence to, and thus avenge themselves upon, their dead fathers, in part because they at once represent those fathers and deny representation to them. The novel offers a rebuke to the Western stranglehold on historical explanation by placing the narrator in relation to a range of surrogate father figures who at once dominate and fail him, as they both dominate and fail to tell his story. Nguyen’s project becomes nothing less than repudiation of the Western history that overwrites Vietnamese history, much as the narrator eventually repudiates the father who, having raped his mother, is too ethically weak and self-unaware to recognize his biracial son—and for whom the fact of his being biracial alone makes him a “bastard.” In this way, The Sympathizer departs from the trajectory of most of the novels I have discussed to this point with respect to the father figure. Although Nguyen begins with some measure of melancholic longing within the narrator’s response to his lack of paternal recognition, his project of constructing postmemory is finally defiant: to rewrite a history that disowns the white, Western father’s narrative, along with the father himself. Like the genre of neo-historical fiction about which Elodie Rousselot writes, Nguyen’s novel clearly enters into a critical project on historical representation, engaging in a “simultaneous attempt and refusal to render the past accurately” (4, italics in original). At the risk of essentializing Nguyen’s

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position as a Vietnamese American writer, however, I suggest that his project departs from that of neo-historical fiction. As Rousselot describes it, the genre tends toward “exoticising strategies” (11) that, often crafted of an ersatz nostalgia (10), satisfy “our desire for a past that is a source of cultural otherness and that is available for consumption,” while at once undermining its own tropes, “by presenting history’s perceived otherness as a deliberate fabrication of the present” (11). This persuasive analysis of the genre’s contradictions is nevertheless premised on distance—temporal, geographical, and regarding subject position. That is, it presumes a gap between the writer or reader and the subject matter, as implied by the locution “our desire for a past,” where “our” stands for the consumer of the story, as distinct from the other who features in it. Nguyen, however, enters into a dialogue with exoticizing stories of the past that closes the gap, because they bear on his self-representation; he “writes back” to orientalizing American representations of the Vietnamese and the war, regarding a time nearly within his living memory—he arrived in the United States in 1975 at the age of four with his refugee parents, not long after Saigon fell. Nguyen, like his narrator, seeks his own traumatic past, not that of a hypothetical other—a past that, unlike Mason’s Sam Hughes (or Mason herself), he actually lived. Like O’Brien’s novel, Nguyen’s project is explained even more clearly by Linda Hutcheon’s perspective on the postmodern mode of historiographic metafiction. Not only does Nguyen’s narrative discourse, like O’Brien’s, “prevent [the past] from being conclusive and teleological” (110) by emphasizing “its enunciative situation” (115), but he also underscores how “we know the past [. . .] only through its textualized remains” (119). Hutcheon points out how historiographic metafiction incorporates “the textualized past into the text of the present” through parody, overtly confronting the “past of literature [. . . and] historiography” (118). In accordance with Hutcheon’s description, The Sympathizer’s reflexive form— ironic, self-aware regarding its textualized acts of representation, replete with allusions to Western culture—lies in tension with its textures of verisimilitude, its placement within the here and now (or then) of Vietnamese and Western history. Nguyen heightens his effects by exploiting the tensions between opposing genres: a spy tale, which seeks to conceal, and a confession, which seeks to disclose.21 The unreliable first-person narrator engages in dialogic address to his confessor, a Commandant with the power to free him from his incarceration in a Communist reeducation camp if only he can tell his story right. The Commandant, a punishing authority figure, is one manifestation of a surrogate father shadowing the Captain’s story and how he tells it. Indeed, the Captain sees the Commandant as a “diligent editor” wielding a “blue pencil,” “always urging me to delete, excise, reword, or add” (Sympathizer 308)—that is, a father wielding the law over and censoring the son’s discourse. This aspect of the Captain’s storytelling—his awareness of

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an audience with the power of life or death over the narrating subject— leads to his succinct insight: “Not to own the means of production can lead to premature death, but not to own the means of representation is also a kind of death. [. . .] I cannot help but wonder, writing this confession, whether I own my own representation or whether you, my confessor, do” (194). Nguyen thus, as I noted, begins the novel when the narrator asserts his doubleness and duplicity, designating both his voice and subjectivity; for him, “the best kind of truth [is] the one that meant at least two things” (121). How better to ensure his subversive play? As a spy or mole, his task is to hide “in plain sight”—“where everyone can see him and where he can see everything” (174). But where he himself, I’d add, is never truly seen—an ironically fitting condition for a nameless bastard unrecognized by his father and bullied into abjection by surrogate fathers. Among the things the narrator hides in plain sight are his cultural allusions, which mark his doubled and duplicitous position by creating ambiguities between the story he tells and the audience to whom he relates it.22 In his role as double agent, the narrator is trapped between two opposing authority figures who function as father surrogates. One is the Communist Commandant who has demanded the “confession” we read and whom the Captain addresses as his interlocutor on the novel’s first page. Politically antithetical to him is the Commandant’s South Vietnamese counterpart, the General whom the Captain serves. His symbolic role as a father double is confirmed late in their relations, when, in anger, the General gives him “the same look my father usually gave me” (290) and then stuns him by calling him “a bastard”: “stuff[ing] the one word in my mouth that could silence me” (291)—the trope that distills his representational trauma. In the narrator’s assignments, the General has exploited him as “the officer most fluent in American culture” (7), as a result of his college education in the United States. The narrator thus supplies points of reference within the diegesis of the world he narrates in his account of his service to the General, studding his narrative with dozens of Western allusions “high” and “low”—the currency of his education into the father’s culture. Pop culture references abound in the narrator’s discourse—the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Janis Joplin (7, 9), for example. At times he overtly repurposes such references, as when the General’s daughter sings Nancy Sinatra’s hit, “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” “layer[ing] English with French and Vietnamese” (237–38), and he hears buried within her rendition a history of Vietnamese memories that he catalogues over two pages of rhapsodic, Whitman-like description. He alludes meaningfully to the canon of American and European writers— Eliot, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Twain, Ben Franklin, Whitman, and Raymond Chandler, Dumas, Zola, Marx, Hegel, Milton, Baudelaire, de Beauvoir, Nin, and Freud. Movie references, too, are everywhere—to Casablanca, James Bond, John Wayne, Gilda, Fellini, and, sardonically, to the Hollywood

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stereotypes of Asians, Charlie Chan and Hop Sing. With each reference, the narrator speaks knowingly about—but also, back to—the paternalistic culture that has formed, dominated, and repudiated him, as he weaves a postmemory of his mixed, disenfranchised origins through a process of simultaneous reference and parodic resistance. Many of the narrator’s knowing citations may at first seem appreciative, but within the context of the frame narrative according to which his discourse constitutes a “confession” to the Communist Commandant, his knowledge of artifacts of Western culture is ironic, one source of his need to be reeducated. In this way, The Sympathizer conforms to Hutcheon’s analysis, according to which historiographic metafiction “uses and abuses [. . .] intertextual echoes, inscribing their powerful allusions and then subverting that power through irony” (118). Indeed, the indeterminacy of the always dual positioning of his voice leaves the reader uncertain as to his tone in any given allusion. Late in the novel, the Commandant accuses him of “prefer[ring] foreign intellectuals and culture over our native traditions” (Sympathizer 312) and for failing to cite Vietnamese poets, or Ho Chi Minh, or even “a folk saying or a proverb” (313). At times, therefore, a seemingly compensatory, ironizing perspective appears in the confessional voice of the narrative. His apostrophe to American culture, for example, inventories its “supermarkets,” “superhighways,” supersonic Jets,” “Superman,” and “Super Bowl,” concluding, “was there ever a country that coined so many ‘super’ terms from the federal bank of its narcissism [. . .]?” (29). But is he telling his interlocutor what he wants to hear? Making sincere recompense? Or conveying his own sardonic view? How does allusion represent his own subjectivity within his contradictory political contexts? Or disguise it? The novel refuses to answer these questions definitively because the construction of the narrator’s subjectivity and perspective answers Nguyen’s political purposes only by remaining indeterminate, forever elusive and uncategorizable. A case in point, and a significant intertext for The Sympathizer, is Graham Greene’s Vietnam novel The Quiet American, published in 1955, when the colonialist French were deeply embroiled in the country’s conflicts and the Americans were stumbling into the fray. Since Nguyen’s narrator studied as a young man in the United States, he visits his professor on his return to the US after his escape from Saigon at the end of the war; the professor recalls that his “thesis on The Quiet American [. . .] was one of the best undergraduate theses I’ve ever read” (100). The reader never learns what the narrator’s academic perspective on Greene’s work was, however, reinforcing his indeterminate position within his own discourse—a man of (at least) two minds. Yet The Sympathizer is, practically speaking, Nguyen’s thesis on The Quiet American, turning it inside out.23 Like other novels in this study, Nguyen’s exemplifies Harold Bloom’s signature notion of “misreading.” Nguyen directs Greene’s cynicism and occasionally hallucinatory violence against this literary “father.” The Quiet American is narrated by an English

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journalist, Thomas Fowler, who repeatedly asserts his political neutrality, that he is “‘not engagé’” (Greene 96). He sees “the job of a reporter” to be no more than “to expose and record” (88); but his narrative secret, revealed at the end of the tale, is an act of engaged partisan politics intentionally fatal to another man—like Nguyen’s narrator, he is asked to choose sides. Greene makes Fowler somewhat alert to a Vietnamese perspective independent of Western interests— he argues, for example, that “‘They don’t want our white skins around telling them what they want’” (94). But the novel’s most vivid and troublesome representation of the Vietnamese lies in Fowler’s conception of his lover, the young woman Phuong, which betrays an Orientalizing construction of her as a delicate, diaphanous beauty—“‘small and breakable and unlike our women’” (156, italics added)—demurely lighting his opium pipe, and so ignorant of the West that she thinks the Statue of Liberty is in London (82). Greene uses Phuong as a romanticized pawn for “us,” the Westerners, possessing little agency within the game of sexual power Fowler plays with the “quiet American,” the CIA agent Alden Pyle. She is a personal and political object of Girardian mimetic desire between the two men; the passing of her between them allegorizes the conflict between European and American colonializing ambitions regarding Vietnam.24 From the standpoint of Nguyen’s nuanced postcolonial position, however, Phuong could readily stand for the objectification, misrecognition, and misrepresentation of the Vietnamese colonial subject. In a severe act of parodic reappropriation, Nguyen thus heightens Greene’s objectification of the Vietnamese woman by reimagining it as an act of rape. Rape, a violently exaggerated figure for misrepresentation, appears literally in the novel’s diegesis in a pair of mirroring plots. The first is the crux of the confession’s plot, the narrator’s most horrifying, suppressed secret, concealing his duplicity regarding the torture and rape of a Communist agent—his Fowler-like act of fatal betrayal. The second, appearing earlier in the narrative and self-consciously narrated by the Captain to show his exploitation by Western powers, concerns his involvement as a consultant in the making of a movie within whose description Nguyen satirically riffs on Apocalypse Now. Coppola’s Vietnam film represents Vietnam as a heart of darkness from a wholly American perspective, and while the focus is on Marlon Brando as his Kurtz to Martin Sheen’s Marlow, the Vietnamese are largely dehumanized, voiceless savages earning Kurtz’s—and the audience’s— horror. Nguyen performs another Bloomian “misreading” of a powerful Western text, though accomplished more by way of the narrator’s failures than by his successes.25 The Captain elects to assist “the Auteur”—a Coppola alter ego acting as yet another authoritarian father figure bent on “writing” his subjectivity—in bringing Vietnamese “authenticity” to his war film, titled The Hamlet.26 The Captain enters wholeheartedly into his role as consultant despite early warning signs he ignores when the Auteur asserts, “Not that authenticity beats imagination,” and blithely demonstrates his bigoted arrogance: “You’re

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the first Vietnamese I’ve ever met” (129), and “I researched your country [. . .] I think I know something about you people” (130). The episode is lengthy, and inserted in such a way that at least one reviewer found that “my pleasure was interrupted by a labored account of the filming of a war movie” (Hoy 685). In my view, however, narrative disruption is precisely Nguyen’s point, signaling in formal terms how the film, like Hollywood in general, misrepresents the other in shattering acts that call for equally disruptive reparative measures. Nguyen’s act of historical re-presentation, comprising the novel as a whole, succeeds through irony and parody, especially when he maintains distance on the narrator’s predicament. That distance requires that the narrator’s efforts at reparation must fail within the diegesis. Naively believing that he can steer the Auteur toward authentic representation, the Captain writes elaborate script notes for their Hollywood meeting. When he argues that the script provides no speaking parts for the Vietnamese and that even the scripted screams, the only sounds permitted the dehumanized Vietnamese, are wrong, the Auteur dismisses him, telling him “No one gives a shit” (133)—where “no one” implicitly refers to a white audience alone. Yet the Auteur later summons the narrator to work with his Vietnamese refugee extras when he shoots “the Movie” (172). When the narrator explains his assignment to the General, he echoes Marx’s argument concerning peasants: “We cannot represent ourselves,” he says; “Hollywood represents us. So we must do what we can to ensure that we are represented well” (144). The Captain is deluded about his agency, however. He enters an absurdly ersatz world, the Philippines substituting for Vietnam, the set “a complete reproduction of a Central Highlands hamlet down to the outhouse” (150), with a temple that the “special effects guys” (151) cannot wait to blow up, the fake village threatened by a North Vietnamese leader named King Cong (with a C). The lead Asian actor uses a shampoo named “Sheen” (158), an allusion to Coppola’s lead actor; the main actress’s first name is “Asia” (159); and the Auteur calls the Captain a “sellout” (163) for trying to talk him out of filming a climactic rape scene. The narrator is anything but what he hopes to be: “an infiltrator into a work of propaganda” launched by Hollywood, “the intercontinental ballistic missile of Americanization” (172). Rather, the narrator’s insurgency fizzles and Hollywood’s discourse prevails. The narrator’s self-deception at last becomes clear to him in two ways: first, when he belatedly realizes that an “accidental” explosion that nearly kills him on a set he has sentimentally associated with his Vietnamese origins may have been the Auteur’s intentional act against him—and therefore, symbolically against those origins; and second, when he finally views the completed movie at a Bangkok theater. In turn, the screening presents his betrayal in two dimensions. Extradiegetically, he discovers that his name does not appear in its credits. He remains as unrecognized and unrepresented as does the Vietnamese perspective he had hoped to insert subversively into

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the film; the Auteur “succeeded in murdering me in fiction, obliterating me utterly” (289). Furthermore, the diegesis of the movie climaxes with the rape scene he had counseled against. As with the lengthy episode of the filming with respect to Nguyen’s narrative, the rape creates a static moment in the film’s narrative, stilling the raucous audience’s response to the rest of the spectacle as they gaze in horror at bloody close-ups of the screaming actress (287)—whose first name, recall, is Asia. The narrator notes the pernicious effects of the misrepresentation—the rape of “Asia”—that he could not avert: watching the Vietnamese refugee actors performing as “half-naked” Viet Cong rapists, “the only possible feeling burning in one’s gut was the desire for their utter extinction” (287). Nguyen’s bitter irony is that the rapists look just like the narrator and the other audience members; by implication, the extinction they are provoked to desire is their own. The film scene the narrator fails to suppress parallels the one most repressed in his memory and confession: the rape of a female Communist agent whom he betrayed in his role as double agent. Under torture in an interrogation room bearing the dark euphemism of “the movie theater” (347)—Nguyen’s witty parody of murderous misrepresentation—the narrator summons a memory that he has alluded to glancingly since page 9: the agent under police interrogation crams an incriminating list of names, including the narrator’s, into her mouth, and he retains his cover only by the cowardly act of not acknowledging her. That the names of her compatriots are the goal of the torture underscores how representation depends on recognition. Nguyen exaggerates the allegory of rape, betrayal, and misrepresentation as the figurative lot of Vietnam—and stresses, too, his bitter revision of Graham Greene’s Phuong. Asked for her name just before the rape begins, the agent replies, “My surname is Viet and my given name is Nam” (350)—a pointedly reflexive echo of Trinh T. Minh-ha’s documentary film about Vietnamese women.27 In guilt and shame, the narrator reinforces the analogy with namelessness: “I chose to live two lives and be a man of two minds, [. . .] given how people had always called me a bastard. Our country itself was cursed, bastardized, partitioned into north and south” (361). He must learn to welcome doubleness and anonymity. Only as a bastard can he avenge himself by bastardizing, so to speak, the discourse of the Western fathers. No wonder Nguyen gives him no name in the text, as his doubleness, like that of his country, escapes recognition—as it must. Indeed, naming is a significant motif in The Sympathizer, emphasized overtly in the narrator’s habit of withholding not only his name, but also those of many of the players around him. He insistently refers to both main and secondary characters in his confession only by a descriptor or the character’s official position: the crapulent major, the grizzled captain, the affectless lieutenant, the General, the Commandant, the Commissar, the Auteur. This practice allows Nguyen another layer of ironic ambiguity. The names—just titles, and especially those with connotative modifiers—are dehumanizing in

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their impersonality, suggesting the Captain’s intervention in the imperative of Western genealogy. In this sense, the narrator may be seen to reenact his father’s refusal to recognize him, placing him in the position of a subject denying subjectivity to others, taking on the father’s authority to name— or not. At times, however, when the narrator is referring to the titles of his “superiors”—the father-substitute officers, the Auteur—their personal anonymity betokens the ideological force, even violence, wielded by members of the dominant classes; their namelessness registers their power over him, as if they are like gods whose names are too powerful to be spoken. The narrator’s withholding of some names makes it all the more obvious when he does bestow names, heavy with significance in their Western resonances, on his fellow characters—most notably, his two friends who enter during their youth into a brotherly pact with him. The two friends mirror the narrator’s split self. Man, the narrator’s Communist contact, turns out to be the faceless man who is the Viet Cong Commissar determining the narrator’s reeducation, in tandem with the Commandant. Man is “manly” in his nihilistic stoicism, but it is a manhood hard won. He has—again invoking the novel’s motif—been burned beyond recognition by napalm, making him horrifying to his family, his facelessness an analogue to the narrator’s namelessness. He is also unrecognized by Bon, their mutual friend committed to South Vietnam, and therefore now his enemy, who is also in the reeducation camp. Man conveys his suffering when he tells the narrator regarding Bon, “I dream that he will recognize me despite myself, even if, in recognizing me, he would only want to kill me” (333). Bon, for his part, has performed the offices of masculine potency by siring a child, creating a lineage so as to assume the position of a legitimate paternal figure. But then he is nearly destroyed by losing his wife and son as they escape Saigon. In addition to the French denotations of his name, which suggest that as a South Vietnamese soldier he is from the Western perspective the “good” man, “Bon” also summons another relevant allusion: Charles Bon, the prototype in American literature for racial doubleness, misrecognition, and misrepresentation. The figure of miscegenation in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (1936), Bon is a son, like the Captain, desperately excluded from the father’s recognition, placed in enmity to his own brother—as Bon is to Man—and rendered by his position permanently unreadable within the narrative that attempts to uncover his story. Bon—in both novels—is a signifier naming a trauma of Western history. He epitomizes a history without representation, forever untold, unspeakable. Charles Bon is, like the narrator, a “bastard,” conceived of a white man’s exploitation of a woman of color whom he sees as his subordinate. The French Catholic priest in The Sympathizer, a religious “father” whose unspeakable seduction of the narrator’s young mother—buying her cheaply with “honey-colored perfume” (39) and ladyfingers—may be a father in the flesh, but he does little to support the child or mother. He treats them like

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cast-offs, giving the mother “gray beef bones [. . .] from his leftovers” (135) for her to make soup, sending the child only the gift of a box of chocolatecovered biscuits annually at Christmas (154). The sole direct communication the father has with his son is a two-sentence letter he sends when the narrator is at college in the United States, to announce his mother’s death at thirtyfour from tuberculosis, a letter mostly flaunting the priest’s own implied largesse: “She is buried in the cemetery under a real headstone” (153, italics in original). The priest acts as the purveyor of the Western, specifically Christian, law of the father. As a boy, the narrator is just one among many boys the priest teaches; the priest never calls his son by name, addressing him in class only as “you” (342; italics in original). The priest teaches his son “about guilt” (206), especially “Original Sin,” about which he speaks “at every Mass” (103), and he beats all the children: “my father never showed any regret when evidence of our innocence surfaced. Since all were guilty of Original Sin, even punishment wrongly given was in some way just” (246). The ironies of the father’s unrepentant allusions to original sin cannot be lost on the reader, since he commits the great sins of rape and indifferent cruelty. From his perspective, however, the language of original sin must conjure only the boy’s origins, detached from his own culpability by his sole focus on the child’s mixed race, not his conception in sexual violence. Like Charles Bon in Faulkner’s tale, Nguyen’s narrator wishes most for his father to recognize him—metaphorically to bestow the name he has withheld from him. He confesses that, When I was growing up, I fantasized that one day he would stand before the congregation and say, Here is my son that you may know him. Let him come before you that you should recognize him and love him as I love him. [. . .] I’d have been happy if he would just visit and eat with us and call me son in secret (270). Failing either public or private recognition, the narrator continues with a complementary, oedipal revenge fantasy: “I fantasized about a lightning bolt, a mad elephant, a fatal disease, an angel descending behind him at the pulpit and blowing a trumpet in his ear to call him back to his Maker” (270). He repeats the fantasy of patricide several times in his confessional narrative, most notably in writing to Man after his mother’s death: “I had written to Man that if God really did exist, my mother would be alive and my father would not. How I wish he were dead! In fact, he died not long after I returned” to Vietnam (248–49, italics in original). What the narrator only belatedly realizes is the power of his own words, the intentional relationship possible between representation and reality, how speech can be an act. As he learns in the climactic interrogation scene, when the Commissar has been unmasked as the faceless Man, his former friend, the coincidence of his letter to Man and the subsequent death of his

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father was not inadvertent. Man took his expressed wish as a request and killed the narrator’s father with “A bullet in the head, listening to his assassin’s confession” (359)—an act tangled with further ironies of guilt and original sin, as the assassination was arranged by the agent whom the narrator later abandons to be raped and tortured. When the Captain realizes that his Communist interlocutor might see the death of the colonizing father—the man who spawned a bastard and a bastardized country, both of whom he repudiated—as a “just sentence,” he notes reflexively, punningly, that a “just sentence [. . .] was all that I had ever wanted to write” (359). In Nguyen’s return to the power of signifying as the foundation of recognition, and thus of representation that might rewrite history, he brings the narrator back toward his urgent project. It is in part a project of revenge. In a disguised allusion to a fellow Asian American writer, Nguyen repeats the line that opens Maxine Hong Kingston’s “No Name Woman,” the chapter that begins The Woman Warrior (1976): “You must not tell anyone what I am about to tell you” (Nguyen 208; Kingston 3). Kingston’s prohibition concerns a family’s suppression of an independent-minded young Chinese woman’s story. Nguyen repurposes the line when the narrator’s mother at last reveals to him the secret of his paternity. But just as Kingston’s narrator avenges her aunt by telling her story anyway, Nguyen allows the narrator a discursive revenge. He follows the proscriptive line with “Your father is . . . She said his name” (208, ellipsis in original). The narrator does not repeat his father’s name—he does not fill his ellipsis, thus occluding the name from his discourse, banning it from the Commandant’s— and the reader’s—knowledge. He erases the father’s story in namelessness, as his has been erased—denying him the name that, within the patriarchal tradition, represents lineage and the genealogical imperative. Yet this erasure enacts only a small personal revenge that does not truly rewrite history. Like Franzen before him, Nguyen conjures Marx’s irresolvably dualistic view of historical representation. During the narrator’s desperate plea to escape his project of agonizing reeducation, he imagines alternatives: “if history had never happened, neither as farce nor as tragedy, if the serpent of language had not bitten me, if I had never been born, if my mother was never cleft” (354). But these alternatives are impossible. The novel ends indeterminately, the project of historical rectification incomplete. Nguyen shifts from ethical to existential revelation. He does this by way of a “just sentence,” the novel’s ultimate joke—literally and figuratively. Asked by Man the Commissar at the climax of his tormenting reeducation the question “What is more precious than independence and freedom?” (360), the narrator finally, after completely breaking down, realizes that the answer is “nothing” (368).28 He comes to see this as a “punch line” (370) confirming the inescapable, paradoxical doubleness of meaning, and implicitly, of himself—as, after this revelation, he refers to himself as “we” (376), the pronominal two-in-one. “[N]othing is more precious than independence

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and freedom” (375), his full answer to the question, can be read in two opposing ways—that there exists no value or state in the world dearer than those two states; or, nihilistically, that the recognition of “nothing”—of negativity, the state of absence—is more precious than those values. In the essential undecidability of language—the only material of representation to hand—the narrator faces an existential, if equally ambiguous, fact: “when he looked into the mirror and saw the void he understood the meaning of nothing” (375). But he also sees that laughter is the only, best response to the deconstruction embodied in “nothing” (378). Just such indeterminacy enables Nguyen’s critical distance and his nonteleological critique of misrepresentation. The bastard, borne of a Westerner’s rape of an Asian innocent, becomes the figure of historical signification itself, in all its duplicity. In this sense his appearance repudiates the father who conceived him and the father’s culture, which conceived him— unlike the other novels in this study, there remain no traces of longing for the patriarch to reorder the fallen world. In its reflexive strategies, The Sympathizer’s postmodern art follows Hutcheon’s description: it “is not so much ambiguous as doubled and contradictory” and “move[s] away from representation [. . .] by installing it materially and subverting it” (119). In failing to construct his alternative Vietnamese history into a consoling postmemory, however, the narrator allows Nguyen to construct his own, shedding—and shredding—the master narrative of Western cultural appropriation by speaking in its language and redeploying its tropes. Nguyen may be seen thereby, at last, to have buried Barthelme’s Dead Father for good, along with all his baggage. Although the history Nguyen recovers is centrally the narrative of misrepresentation, the narrator concludes with conviction: “We will have nothing to leave to anyone except these words, our best attempt to represent ourselves against all those who sought to represent us” (380). It is the only strategy that remains to a fatherless, nameless, free-floating child—who asserts defiantly the final words of Nguyen’s novel: “We will live!” (382, italics in original).

NOTES

Chapter 1 1 The image of modern Western masculinity has received extensive scholarly treatment in the past few decades; I will not attempt to review it in detail here. For an excellent study of the development of that pervasive type, see George Mosse’s The Image of Man, which follows the image’s evolution from the Enlightenment all the way to its deformations under fascism. As I address later, the histories and theoretical framing of Western masculinity, and specifically of the paternal image, presuppose the invisible whiteness of the male subject. The overview provided here follows suit, insofar as this approach describes the governing myth for males within the heteronormative system to which the novels in Fictive Fathers pay allegiance. 2 Silverman notes that she takes the term “dominant fiction” from Jacques Rancière, who applies it more broadly to “a society’s ideological ‘reality’ ” (30). Silverman’s seemingly masculinist reading of culture serves her deconstruction of the ideology underpinning the dominant fiction—to elucidate its fictiveness— in order to identify a “historical moment” of “disjuncture” when the fiction suffers a “collective loss of belief” (2), making way for a revisionary feminist articulation of relations. Silverman, and others that follow here, draw on concepts from a variety of essays and seminars by Jacques Lacan, including “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I” and “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis,” from Ecrits: A Selection. 3 Knights describes the condition of traditional masculinity in non-Lacanian terms that run parallel to this analysis. He argues that masculinity is “an aspirational identity rather than a descriptive fact”; noting that “the performance of identities is not simply a matter of unconstrained individual choice,” he asserts that “narratives of male identity hold an attraction endowed by the memory (albeit a false memory) of an entitlement to power” (8). 4 For an excellent overview of the construction of masculinism and male sexuality, and how “masculinism naturalizes male domination” (17), see Arthur Brittan. Brittan explores the ideology according to which “Male sexuality becomes valorized in a context in which men are taught that possessing a penis is a sign of their difference and power” (55)—how, that is, “A man is only a man in so far as he is capable of using his penis as an instrument of power” (47).

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5 Silke-Maria Weineck bluntly calls the father’s naming of his children an “identity deposit” (23). Her excellent study examines paternity as a metaphor in Western literature from the ancient world—in Oedipus, Aristotle, and Abraham—to the early twentieth century, with special focus on the father/son relationship manifested in the European tradition. 6 Schwartz draws on Slavoj Žižek’s analysis of the Lacanian Real in The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989), so as to conclude that “The Real, apparently, is not: it is absence or lack” (9, italics in original), and she quotes Žižek regarding “the arbitrariness of power: ‘Belief [in the Law] is an affair of obedience to the dead, uncomprehended letter,’ ” which she equates with the “dead uncomprehended father” (Schwartz 9, Žižek 43). 7 Indeed, Varney points out the coincidence that “Freud’s theories concerning the importance of fantasy formations gained a significant and unprecedented currency” (254) at the time of the Great War. 8 Yaeger and Kowaleski-Wallace are quoting Teresa de Lauretis (14). 9 Weineck also observes the figure of the “feeble [father] who holds no power, the one who knows that he is destined to be superseded not in violent rebellion but in casual dismissal” as “the one with whom contemporary fathers are most likely to identify” (4), and she adduces Mr. Darling in Barrie’s Peter Pan as an example of the type. 10 Focusing more narrowly on evidence in 1990s popular culture of “celebrations of paternal responsibility and authority” denoting “a nostalgia for patriarchal authority,” Kelly Oliver notes wryly, “Although the nuclear family with Mom at home and Dad at work was a postwar fantasy, it is a fantasy that dies hard” (3). 11 These founding metaphors are of course as fraught as the patriarchal ideology they reify, since Washington was a slave owner and the Founding Fathers likewise made their pact with slavery. 12 Others have noted how the male gauges his masculinity reflexively, by the standards of other males. See, for example, Peter Schwenger 109. 13 In broad strokes, Michael Kimmel paints the “sentiments about entitlement” of “these new legions of angry white men,” who, while “they still have most of the power and control in the world [. . .] feel like victims”; they thus reflect a “nostalgic longing for that past world when men believed they could take their places among the nation’s elite simply by working hard,” even though such a meritocracy “never existed” (221). Hamilton Carroll elaborates the analysis of the “strategies that maintain heteronormative white patriarchal privilege in contemporary American culture” (2) by examining how white masculinity “maintains privilege through a process of disavowal and transformation,” specifically by “plac[ing] itself in other identity locations (white trash, queer, blue-collar, Irish) in order to disavow that it is normative” (7). Beginning from some similar premises, Catherine Jurca, like Beuka, focuses specifically on representations of the American suburbs. Although Jurca does not examine manhood as such, she frames her analysis ironically with the titular concept of “white diaspora” to explore how twentieth-century American novels have “promot[ed] a fantasy of victimization that reinvents white flight as the persecution of those who flee, turns material advantages into artifacts of

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spiritual and cultural oppression, and sympathetically treats affluent house owners as the emotionally dispossessed” (8–9). 14 In a somewhat differently focused analysis of a genre she names the “neodomestic novel,” Kristin J. Jacobson looks at how a “productive instability” (6) marks the shift in recent fiction about the domestic American environment away from the commitment to domestic stability that often resolved nineteenthand twentieth-century domestic novels. Jacobson considers how neodomestic novels “attempt to redesign and destabilize [the] singular dominance within the American landscape” of “the traditional domestic geography of the singlefamily, heterosexual, patriarchal home” (11). 15 Peter Schwenger makes a complementary argument, framing his discussion of Barthelme’s story with both Kafka’s agonized relationship to his domineering father, who became “not so much a presence in Kafka’s work as a pervasive absence, a nonexistent authority,” and with Freud’s Totem and Taboo, in which, following Freud’s construction of the patricide committed within the primal horde, the sons’ guilt is appeased by the “prohibitions of totemism” such that “the debt to the dead father is paid and made fruitful through cultural forms—legal, religious, artistic” (“Barthelme” 62). Schwenger offers the important insights that, not only is the dead father “not dead at all, but lives in the culture that continues to dominate his offspring” (66), but also that the “patriarchal law” itself is “not any particular order, but the very concept of ordering itself” (67, italics in original). 16 Auster’s father’s exclusive, paradoxically self-abnegating self-absorption is brilliantly depicted in a trick photograph Auster includes with the memoir, taken of his father in the 1940s, that combines five images, from five different angles, of him sitting around a table, but arranged so as to refuse “the possibility of eye contact among the various selves.” Auster draws a terrifying conclusion: “Each one is condemned to go on staring into space, as if under the gaze of the others, but seeing nothing, never able to see anything. It is a picture of death, a portrait of an invisible man” (31).

Chapter 2 1 Without reading too much from Irving’s biography, it is worth noting that he was raised by his mother and stepfather, and that his biological father was a flyer in World War II who survived the war after being shot down over Burma, but whose whereabouts and name remain unknown to Irving (Reilly 1 and 12, fn. 1). Irving’s fascination with paternal origins might therefore be no surprise. 2 Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, and Philip Roth are of roughly the same generation, all older than Irving. Both McCarthy and Roth published first novels earlier than did Irving, but the novels I consider by both appeared late in their careers. 3 Irving frequently writes characters who are writers. Graff arranges Siggy’s journals and autobiography in Setting Free the Bears (1968). In The WaterMethod Man (1972), Trumper keeps a diary that turns out to be the novel we are reading. Not only is Garp a writer of fiction, but his mother, Jenny Fields,

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gains vast fame—not to mention an assassin—for writing her autobiography, A Sexual Suspect. The narrator in The Hotel New Hampshire claims his job is to “set the record straight” about the family’s story (2). Wilbur Larch, venerable doctor and director of the orphanage at the center of The Cider House Rules (1985), keeps a comprehensive journal, frequently “quoted” in the text. 4 My argument about Irving’s preoccupation with the father’s authority appears in greater detail in “The Family Romances of John Irving.” 5 Curiously, this is the novel that most fully attempts to imagine Irving’s biographical origin: like Irving’s biological father, Wally Worthington is a World War II flyer shot down over Burma. Irving imagines Wally as a blonde Adonis of the orchards, handsome, athletic, and innocent. The idealized projection of the absent father, however, is undercut when Wally comes home from the war, his moral innocence intact, but his physical power destroyed: he is paralyzed and sterile. His absence as a father figure seems to earn a figurative revenge (a “castration”); at the same time, the novel forgives the idealized father’s absence as involuntary. 6 Irving imagines paternal relations displaced into other examples of surrogacy, resembling Win’s relation to Arbuthnot. Wilbur Larch in The Cider House Rules, dedicated obstetrician, abortionist, and pediatrician at St. Cloud’s orphanage, conceives an intense fatherly love for Homer Wells that he expresses by seeking authority over Homer, whom he wishes to replace him at the orphanage. He devises an elaborate story of Homer’s identity so that Homer might practice medicine without a license. Homer at first fulfills an oedipal pattern of resistance, attempting flight from the “father,” but capitulates to Larch’s plans. 7 Irving’s title also inevitably recalls the formulation of “the gospel according to . . .,” with due irony: not only is there no father, or perhaps supreme Father, at the source, but also Garp’s story of his father’s world and word offer little wisdom or solace. 8 Janice Doane and Devon Hodges persuasively argue against the alleged “feminism” of the novel that readers may discern, for example, in Jenny Fields’s independence of men and the rise of the Ellen Jamesians, a political sisterhood, in response to incidents of rape. They point out, for example, that Garp valorizes the imaginative capacities of men’s writing against the “literal-minded fiction” (69) of women writers, and that Garp “connects the death of the father to the rise of women, particularly the rise of the mother to power” (72). If one aligns Irving’s perspective with his protagonist’s, by implication, he registers in the novel a protective impulse toward patriarchy. 9 Irving obviously draws on Randall Jarrell’s often-anthologized poem “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” as the origin of his image of Garp’s father. I discuss the poem’s relationship to Irving’s text in an essay from which portions of this chapter are drawn, “Plot as Repetition: John Irving’s Narrative Experiments” (55–56). 10 Literally, the first event in the novel is when Jenny Fields slashes the arm of a soldier attempting to grope her in a movie theater, but Irving presents that scene as a prelude to Garp’s conception, which follows soon after and confirms violence as inextricable from sexual relations.

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11 I rely here on the narratological distinction between “story” (the putatively extratextual plot elements) and “discourse” (how those elements are constructed into textual telling) succinctly theorized by Seymour Chatman—what he distinguishes as the “what of narrative” as opposed to its “way” (9). 12 I have condensed the main entries from the Oxford Latin Dictionary. The derivation of “correction” from the Old French appears in The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology (217). 13 Critics have noted the father’s centrality to Franzen’s novel, if not in extended readings. Stephen J. Burn, for example, placing Franzen in the context of his contemporaries Richard Powers and David Foster Wallace, notes a common interest in “coming to terms with the death of a father figure” (97). 14 Irving was clearly preoccupied with the notion of the “father’s illusions”; he quotes himself later when the narrator of The Hotel New Hampshire, John Berry, repeatedly uses the phrase (e.g., 70) to refer to the structuring influence on his family. 15 Martin usefully summarizes a wide range of theories of narrative to arrive at this consolidation of attributes, and he notes that this is a specifically historicized notion of realism as a period concept linked especially to nineteenth-century fiction (57). Even more complex issues arise from thinking about realism as a matter of narrative convention (Martin 63–71); or as a matter of the readings constructed by audiences variously hypothetical, actual, and narrative, the latter of which is a fiction constructed within the text (Rabinowitz 98–102). Usefully troubling most attempts to define the realist mode is Terry Eagleton’s introduction to his discussion of the canon of the English novel, which begins from the question “What is a Novel?” (8–20). 16 Brauner provides an excellent brief survey of the harsh criticisms leveled against Franzen (“Value, Values” 3–4). For extended views subjecting Franzen’s career to critique, see James Annesley, Colin Hutchinson, and Robert Rebein, the latter of whom refers to Franzen in his essay’s title as “Turncoat.” Critics often look—and often unfavorably—to two essays by Franzen, a Harper’s piece, “Perchance to Dream,” written while he was writing The Corrections, and a New Yorker piece, “Mr. Difficult,” published after the novel’s release, as akin to aesthetic manifestos explaining his about-face toward realism. Indeed, scholars implicitly (see Rebein 203 and Annesley 115) and even explicitly (see Burn 97–99) invoke Bloom’s notion of the anxiety of influence when they place Franzen’s writing among his precursors and peers. 17 Green insightfully reads a parallel scene, when Alfred as a young man on the road for his job fights mightily against the temptations of his masturbatory imagination, congratulating himself for having “denied the succubuses his satisfaction” (Corrections 245); Green concludes that “It is this set of associations—sexual pleasure with moral turpitude, women with decay and corruption—that founds the patriarchal order he struggles to maintain over his own household” (108). 18 To vastly different effect, the scene recalls Roth’s moving account in Patrimony of his father’s incontinent episode, discussed in Chapter 1, which likewise figures the father’s diminishment in bodily terms.

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19 Green gives an excellent account of Alfred’s estrangement from his body and its link to the failure of the liberal conception of the self; see 110–13. 20 Franzen’s characterizations of the females—especially of Enid—are thinner than those of the males. Enid seems a more unmitigated target of Franzen’s satire than the other characters—a rather daft figure, somewhere between the Edith of television’s All in the Family series and Gracie Allen, but without the cleverness of the latter or the good sense and grounding of the former. Weinstein might agree, as he argues that “Enid is for vast swathes of his novel fatally easy to dislike” (134). Denise seems a less compelling figure than her brothers in Franzen’s imagining, perhaps because, as Weinstein hazards, she has a “formidable will,” like her father but unlike her brothers (130). Franzen appears especially fascinated by Chip, who seems most closely to project Franzen’s sense of himself. For discussion of Chip’s potential connection to Franzen’s biography and sensibilities, see Weinstein 113–15. 21 It is certainly possible to criticize Franzen for the about-face of the last chapter. Several critics, such as Green and Hutchinson, have questioned the novel in relation to the possibility for an activist politics emerging from the worldview Franzen invokes; Green, for example notes that the novel “does not translate into social action or political consciousness” (114). I find Annesley’s account of the final chapter most intriguing: generally, he criticizes the “un-dialectical quality of Franzen’s approach” to how the novel form might participate “in the construction of society even as it might set out to represent and reflect that society” (124). As a result, Annesley welcomes the novel’s turn “away from determinism” (126) in its conclusion. To my mind, however, in his enthusiasm for art’s political engagement, Annesley’s view overlooks the question of the novel’s tone.

Chapter 3 1 For a few examples offering excellent close analysis of Smiley’s adaptation, see David Brauner (“ ‘Speak Again’ ”), Marina Leslie, James Schiff (“Contemporary”), and Susan Strehle. See also Roger Luckhurst, who makes the excellent point that “Smiley’s de-cryption of a sub-text of paternal abuse in Lear acts to counter a contemporary conservatism about the family that would precisely locate female insubordination as the greatest threat [. . .] The truth of abuse that re-writes Shakespeare is also the truth that, for Smiley, discourses of the American family must confront” (87). 2 Insofar as both The Corrections and A Thousand Acres are indebted to King Lear, one might suggest that Franzen and Smiley both perceived in Lear’s madness on the heath an evocative analogue to the modern diagnosis of dementia. 3 The Prodigal Son is an archetype that will return, especially in Marilynne Robinson’s trilogy of novels. 4 Henkle sketches a succinct history of English domestic comedy from the eighteenth century onward, in drama and fiction, in order ultimately to account

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for the uncanny humor of Harold Pinter’s plays. Among other points, Henkle distinguishes domestic comedy from the characteristic according to which early theories of comedy, such as those of Henri Bergson or Freud, “have tended to assert that comedy distances or insulates us from distressing experiences” (174). 5 Some critics lay the responsibility for the Tull family’s dysfunction entirely at Pearl’s feet, focusing on the mother/child relations with little reference to how those relations might respond to the father’s absence; see, for example Cheryl Devon Coleman and Paula Gallant Eckard. Others, most notably Joseph B. Wagner, trace the cause substantially to Beck Tull’s absence. Elizabeth Mahn Nollen argues for a “continuum of effective fathering” (218) in a range of Tyler’s novels but, unsurprisingly, makes only a glancing reference to Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, an exception that might probe her rule. 6 The classic analysis of the binary archetypal construction of “woman” appears, of course, in Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic; they note the conventional ideology operative in Anglo-American society, reproduced in nineteenth-century literature, in which women “are warned that if they do not behave like angels, they must be monsters” (53). 7 Ezra’s characterization sets up the final parallel to be found in Franzen’s fictional family, as Chip Lambert is provisionally restored at the end of The Corrections by returning “home” and adopting a domestic role. In Ezra’s attachment to the preparation of food, however, he also prepares for Franzen’s imagining of Denise. 8 Tyler’s prose is humorous, as well, offering on nearly every page tidy, penetrating, witty observations about the characters that often blur the perspectival line between a heterodiegetic narrator and the homodiegetic narrator lodged within a character’s free indirect discourse as he or she responds to other family members. 9 Several critics make much of the episode that triggers Beck’s abandonment— when Ezra accidentally shoots Pearl with an arrow, an episode recounted by each member of the family, implying its formative effects. See Donna Gerstenberger, Joseph C. Voelker (125–46), and, especially, Susan Elizabeth Sweeney. 10 Insofar as Tyler reproduces such coded behavior, her conceptions would certainly be in keeping with the gender analyses extant at the time of the novel’s composition in the early 1980s. 11 Cooper derives the characterization from Roth’s interview with George Plimpton, in which he asserts that he was “strongly influenced by a sit-down comic named Franz Kafka” (Searles 39). Roth’s “sit-down comic” is, in the context of the interview, a play on the “stand-up comedy” of comics such as Lenny Bruce, Shelley Berman, and Mort Sahl. 12 For exemplary scholarship on Jewish masculinity, see Daniel Boyarin, Neil R. Davison, and Naomi Seidman. 13 I take up Roth’s multifaceted preoccupation with masculinity at length in Philip Roth—Countertexts, Counterlives. For another detailed exploration of the subject, see Ann Basu.

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14 In his review of the novel, William Deresiewicz points out the historicity of this characterization—that the fathers in the 1930s and 1940s immigrant community in New Jersey where Roth situates the novel have a “sense of masculinity” that “stems not from sexual prowess but from their success in deserving the adjective that is the father of Everyman’s protagonist’s highest term of praise: ‘reliable’ ” (15). 15 Whether intentionally or not, Roth’s description of Everyman’s devotion to the watch echoes the manner in which Faulkner presents Quentin Compson’s ambivalent attachment to his father’s watch in The Sound and the Fury (1929). The tone, however, is starkly different. Roth invests the watch with much the same meaning as Faulkner does—it connotes the young man’s patriarchal lineage and the failures that disrupt it—but Faulkner frames Quentin’s attachment with a bleakly nihilistic view of the Compson male line and its meanings within his social world—Quentin’s father calls the watch “the mausoleum of all hope and desire” (Sound and the Fury 48)—whereas Roth’s tone remains elegiac. 16 Roth’s portrait of Mr. Messner accords with Andrew Hoborek’s economic analysis, mentioned in Chapter 1. Along similar lines, Frederick Luis Aldama, writing specifically about Indignation, makes a strong case for how Mr. Messner feels assaulted by socioeconomic conditions. With shifts in the “social tissue of capitalism” during the postwar era, and especially with the “onset of mass marketing and distribution of goods transforming consumer habits,” the “autonomy of small businesses and shops (self-sufficient labor), family, and community” was being destroyed (212). 17 Derek Parker Royal’s review of the novel draws an explicit comparison to Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), suggesting that a reader might see “Indignation as an alternate reality for Alexander Portnoy” in that Marcus, like Portnoy, is “a victim of his own emotional tumult” who allows his “indignation [to] get the better of him” (135). 18 This role was likely responsible for the tagline at times applied to Jews as “people of the Book.” It also may have influenced the frequent mid-century American Jewish commitment to education, often especially visible in the post-immigrant generations. 19 James Duban has pointed out the “Melvillean resonance in Nemesis,” especially in the parallel between “Bucky’s crazed, self-centered revenge” (72) and Ahab’s in Moby-Dick. 20 On Robinson’s Christianity, regarding Gilead, see, for example, D. W. Schmidt, and James Wood’s review of Gilead. See also Jennifer Holberg on Home. 21 D. W. Schmidt makes much this point in relation to Gilead (120). 22 In his superb essay on Robinson, Ray Horton squarely takes on what I’ve called the “tensions” in Robinson’s writing. He argues for a “theopoetic point of view” in her fiction that takes its pervasive religion as “less propositional than phenomenological”; Horton sees as “deeply interwoven” the “aesthetics of the quotidian and her committed engagement with religious forms of life” (120). “The form of religious vision in Robinson’s fiction,” he argues, “is not fully tethered to doctrinal objects of belief, nor is it entirely a subjective, self-reflexive

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performance of belief. Rather, it is a pervasive component of the subject’s phenomenological interpretive context and an occasion for aesthetic revitalization” (121). I add here the psychosocial familial relations in Robinson’s trilogy not covered within Horton’s focus on the intersection between the religious and the quotidian. 23 I would argue that Faulkner has been a significant influence on Robinson. In Gilead, Ames’s grandfather tells a tall tale about a “forgotten little abolitionist settlement” that builds a tunnel, intended to hide escaped slaves, that goes absurdly, comically wrong (58–63). Meant, apparently, as a parable of goodness derailed by poor judgment, it is the sort of story that would not seem out of place in Faulkner’s writing—in, say, The Hamlet (1940)—and, in fact, seems formally an unprecedented interpolation into Robinson’s novel. Robinson told an interviewer in 2004, the year Gilead was published, how much she admired Faulkner (and Melville as well); and she also noted that she had recently taught a course on Faulkner’s work (Johnson 184, 183). 24 Aaron Mauro rightly detects that Boughton’s compensatory gesture toward Ames is met by him with some resentment, as it obliges him toward, in Robinson’s words, “special tolerance and kindness towards this young man” (Mauro, “Ordinary” 159, Robinson 155). 25 Robinson may be alluding to Ford Madox Ford’s Good Soldier (1915), in which the heart ailments of members of two couples stand for their infidelities. 26 One cannot overlook, either, that it is Jack who finally names Ames’s wife, Lila, in the text, though not until very late in the novel (200); he gives her the recognition of her identity that Ames reserves to himself through the entire narrative. Her name is a secret that one might say Ames holds rather jealously. 27 I would hazard here another argument for Faulkner’s influence, as Jack, in his desperate play for a father’s recognition of him—even if a surrogate father— recalls no one so much as Charles Bon, desiring recognition from Thomas Sutpen, in Absalom, Absalom! (1936). Chapter 8 will take Charles Bon up in somewhat more detail as an archetypal figure for the father’s failure of recognition. 28 Laura Tanner makes a fine case for the “emotional truth which emerges in and through the textured specificity of embodied experience” (230) in Ames’s representations of his sensory memories, especially insofar as those memories signify Ames’s “attempts to recuperate the enormity of anticipated loss through the intensity of his focus and the power of his perception” (230–31). 29 Rebecca Painter, interviewing Robinson after the publication of Home, suggests that by comparison, Robinson’s work is far less ironic than that of her fellow female Christian writers, Flannery O’Connor and Muriel Spark; Robinson does not contest the characterization (487). 30 Writing about the centrality of Glory’s character to the narrative’s meaning, Jennifer Holberg observes that “Glory’s character and reactions strike me as more complicated, more various, perhaps more understandable” than those of her father or brother, because of Robinson’s use of free indirect discourse; “We see the full range of her responses to these men—love, frustration, anger, loyalty, and more” (291). Glory’s character deserves the detailed treatment Holberg offers, but for my purposes, Jack is the most telling figure of the novel.

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31 Throughout my discussion of Home, rather than repeatedly including clumsy interpolations about the narrative point of view, I assume unless otherwise noted that the “narrator” is roughly equivalent to the internal voice of Glory, presented in free indirect discourse. 32 Glory feels that her experience in the Boughton family is entirely arranged around Jack’s presence or absence: “Her whole life long that house was either where Jack might not be or where he was not” (65). 33 Because it is not centrally related to my analysis, except insofar as it provides another father-double, I have not addressed the important dimension of the novel’s portrait of Jack’s cultural alienation from Gilead in his devotion to a wife who is racially other. 34 I would suggest yet another Faulknerian influence on Robinson in this regard: Caddy Compson in The Sound and the Fury (1929), among the most notably “voiceless” characters in modern fiction—equally marked by “sin” and fundamentally misapprehended by her family. 35 To return to Faulkner yet again, the episode the young man recounts is reminiscent of Joe Christmas’s belief that he has killed McEachern, his adoptive father, in Light in August, though Christmas lashes out against the psychological violence of McEachern’s suffocating Calvinist pieties and not to a specific act of physical violence. 36 It does not escape my notice that there exists no comparable term to “patrimony” for a mother’s legacy—and that the apparently parallel term I fall back upon refers to marriage.

Chapter 4 1 I have argued at length for this reading of Eugenides’s narrative strategy in “ ‘A Story We Could Live With.’ ” 2 See also Richard Eder, who finds that “in a book of such length, [a] shadowy lethargy overwhelms” (282). I cite only occasional pieces and reviews on Simpson’s novel. At this writing, although a few essays have appeared on Anywhere But Here, there appears to be no scholarly work in print on The Lost Father. 3 Simpson represents Mayan’s self-consuming desire according to much the same terms—starvation and financial ruin—as Paul Auster explores in Moon Palace, discussed in Chapter 5. 4 Simpson emphasizes the ironically unstable relation between naming and identity when Mayan notes that “Stevenson was my stepfather’s name. It wasn’t even really his either. Ted had been adopted” (339). The problem of patrilineage for Mayan is overdetermined, beginning in the prior generation. 5 Because LaCapra is addressing political traumas, such as those in postapartheid South Africa and post-Nazi Germany, he develops an important distinction between absence, which he views on a “transhistorical level” and “constitutive of existence” (such as might appear in the work of Beckett or Blanchot), and

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loss, which he situates “on a historical level” (Writing History 48, 49). Because the works I treat in this chapter conceive loss strictly in personal, not transhistorical, terms, I have not retained this essential distinction in my own explanatory discourse, but I return to it in Chapter 6. 6 Appearances to the contrary, the novel does not neatly fit the metaphor of the Russian nesting doll. The order of the discourse suggests that the story of Gary’s death is the most concealed, at the hub of narrative meaning, suppressed for the first 80 percent of the storytelling. This model puts the Caroline and Candace narratives, while also distinct, in somewhat the same plane, as both displacing Gary’s story. If, however, one takes the compositional history into account—the Candace narrative temporally disrupted and amplified by the playing out of Gary’s illness and death, then the Caroline narrative might seem the endpoint, most fully complicating the themes and motifs of the others. 7 For a superb analysis of how Maso’s metafictional structure of complementary narratives explores the Freudian scheme of mourning, see Grant Stirling. Stirling argues that the “direction of the fabula toward the resolution of grief through the work of mourning is countered by the structure of the sjužet, which creates the stasis of melancholia” (592). Stirling sees Caroline’s “novel-in-progress” (the Henry story) as “a repository of her desire for the unified and idealized family that is denied her” (597), a “locus of wish fulfillment” in which Candace’s acting-out, for example, “allows Caroline to express her love and anger in the relative safety of an aesthetic retreat” (605–6)—to refuse, that is, “to accept the necessary work of mourning and instead to favor the illusory security and stasis of melancholia” (594). 8 Maso goes on to imply that Aureole continues the experiment of The Art Lover: “I have tried to create a space neither fictive nor autobiographical where I am allowed to exist in an utterly different way. Not as character or through character, and yet not as author either” (Break 132). 9 Interestingly, Maso’s reproductions of Giotto’s fresco (Art Lover 17, 24) are far darker than those that appear in Stubblebine’s volume as figures 52 and 53. The Norton illustrations show more folds, details, and texture in the robes and facial expressions of Jesus and the Magdalene than do Maso’s reproductions, which virtually flatten all but the Magdalene’s face and halo into a darkness surrounding Jesus. Even more notable is that Stubblebine’s reproductions show far more light and detail in the space between the figures, with clearly defined foliage appearing directly below the woman’s hands and some shaping of a distant hill rising below Jesus’s outstretched hand. The effect in the fresco is to diminish to some degree the sense of the figures’ isolation and dark tragedy, because the picture plane is fuller, less abyssal than in Maso’s reprints. Although Stubblebine’s interpretation of the image is well represented in the textual fragment Maso includes—he notes, in addition, how Giotto’s focus is on the woman’s “rapt, attentive face,” and her “fingers groping in the empty air” (94)— it does seem useful to Maso’s ends that the reproduction of the fresco appears within her book cloaked with so much metaphoric darkness. 10 In the first of the book’s five parts, “Spring 1985,” Maso distinguishes between Caroline’s extradiegetic “writing” of the Henry/Maggie/Candace/Alison novel-in-progress, whose sections appear under numbered subheads, from

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Caroline’s diegetic narration of her grieving for Max, whose sections appear under various short titles. These divisions break down even before the end of part I, leaving short titles over all of the fragmented sections that follow. This is one metafictional aspect of the novel’s form that points toward the fallacy of aesthetic ordering. 11 Caroline likewise projects this objectifying feature of her father into the story she writes. Henry, a musician in love with sound (displaced from Max the visual artist), is remembered by his wife Maggie to have “recorded their lovemaking” (96). 12 Silbergleid makes a convincing case for Maso’s deployment of strategies of anti-narrative in Defiance (1998); although that novel appeared after The Art Lover, however, it seems safe to suggest that Maso’s feminist aesthetics were likely fairly consistent over the years of the two novels’ composition.

Chapter 5 1 Herzogenrath gestures in his introduction toward supporting Auster’s resistance to the “postmodernist label” on the basis of “its highlighting of the questions of origins, subjectivity, language, and their complex interplay”; instead, he claims Auster’s affinity with the “poststructuralist theories” of Lacan and Derrida (5; emphases in original). Steven Weisenburger, in discerning a preoccupation of Moon Palace with the “Inside,” indicated by its “series of quests for natural language, fathers, authority, and history” (70), implicitly contradicts Herzogenrath’s distinction. Other scholars have troubled the postmodernist reading of Auster’s work. See Scott Dimovitz, whose careful rereading of the Trilogy concludes that “Auster’s antipostmodern project almost inadvertently writes back against the critical discourses written by his contemporaries, and he manages to negate postmodernism by way of a critique of its foundational moments” (629). See also Aliki Varvogli, who observes Auster’s “delicate balance [. . .] between an enquiry into the world and an exploration of the nature of the self as it appears in language” (2); and Steven E. Alford (“Chance” 78, fn. 5). For readings that, framed by the work of Emmanuel Levinas, balance the postmodern readings of Auster with insights into the novels’ commitment to ethical subjects, engaged in intersubjectivity, see James Peacock, “The Father,” and Kanae Uchiyama. 2 See the discussion of Roth in Chapter 3 for a fuller account, derived from Fuchs, of the shifts within the twentieth-century Jewish American father’s role, especially how such fathers ceded the roles of nurturance and instruction to mothers as they concentrated on work outside the home (115). 3 Because the bibliography on Auster’s work is extensive, what follows represents a small sampling. For a detailed Lacanian reading of Auster, see Herzogenrath. See also Dennis Barone’s “Introduction: Paul Auster and the Postmodern Novel” (1–26), as well as the other excellent chapters in his collection; Alford; Mark Brown; Ilana Shiloh; and Varvogli. 4 The characterization of course echoes Auster’s designation of his father as an “invisible man” in The Invention of Solitude.

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5 See, for example, Caruth; LaCapra, Writing History; and Ellie Ragland. 6 Drawing on the work of Ellmann and others, Little convincingly argues that self-starvation in Auster’s work represents the desire for a prelapsarian condition: “The commitment to emptiness promises a pure fullness of Being which cannot be re-presented by a dirty, carnal medium of contingency and loss” (146). This is also the condition Peter Stillman, Sr., seeks in City of Glass. See also Shiloh’s case for seeing Fogg’s self-starvation in terms of a “quest that will forever remain unfulfilled,” an “ending resisted in the interests of maintaining the constant possibility of the end” (146, 147). 7 Auster addresses in his essay on Knut Hamsun, “The Art of Hunger” (1970), the confluence of physical and metaphysical hunger. Rubin, in his reading of The Invention of Solitude, emphasizes the latter connotation, specifically the metaphoric potential of hunger to point to a “yearning” that “must, by definition, remain unfulfilled” (64). I prefer, however, to recapture here the vehicle of the metaphor, the literal hunger that drives and sustains the body. 8 For a portrait of Auster’s fascination with chance and coincidence, see the anecdotes collected in his Red Notebook (2002); see also his more complex rendition in The Music of Chance (1990). 9 For this interpretation, see Varvogli 132 and Susanne Rohr 108. 10 Herzogenrath notes the possibility for Effing’s name to play upon the “ineffable,” suggesting the name as a metaphor for “the sublime character of language itself, of the non-totalizing quality of the signifier as signifier” (150; italics in original). 11 As Herzogenrath has it, “the final irony consist[s] in the paradox that this seemingly ‘stable position’ is nevertheless but a ‘phase.’ The moon serves as a signifier of the structural impossibility of the real” (146). 12 Auster does not leave the lessons of Moon Palace behind, either. The Book of Illusions (2002), for example, figures the seductive dangers of signification in relation to the cinematic sign, which literally disappears with its actor/director, Hector Mann, along with most of his films, until one final viewing of his unseen film, The Inner Life of Martin Frost, is narrated. Martin Frost represents in its climax the renunciation of the sign—in the burning of a writer’s manuscript—as the only way to rescue a human life. Even such diverse novels as Timbuktu (1999) and Travels in the Scriptorium (2007) pose the realism of bodily existence against the indeterminacy of the sign. The little fable of Timbuktu is narrated from the point of view of a dog, Mr. Bones, the animal double of his owner, Willy Christian, a voluble man of words and stories, afflicted with a species of logorrhea. Mr. Bones represents an intelligence wholly illiterate—excluded from the realm of signs, he exists within, and thinks through, the body. After Willy dies, Mr. Bones embarks on a picaresque quest in search of Willy’s utopia, Timbuktu; the novel, however, shows him heading instead for the material world and the mortal reality of his own flesh, since Timbuktu is a fantasy that exists, if at all, only after death. In Travels in the Scriptorium, Auster returns to the austere, alienated, and intensely reflexive, Beckettian realm of The New York Trilogy, but with a significant difference. Cast adrift by loss of memory within another apparently locked

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room of unrecognizable signs, Mr. Blank confronts the humiliating rituals of the aging body, whose functions have become as foreign to him as the characters who, embodiments of his own imaginative creations, gently tend to him in his decline and, as the narrator claims at the end, in fact keep him alive. Unlike the Quinn of City of Glass, whose self-mortification, like the young Fogg’s, is directed toward his disappearance into the word, Mr. Blank’s bodily and mental degeneration are slowed, or at least transfigured, by the redeeming power of language to defeat time and reinstate some version of presence. 13 I wish to thank my colleague at the College of Wooster, Joan Friedman, for the Hebrew translation. She suggests an additional intriguing resonance to Auster’s choice of “Master Yehudi”: that the name may be a rough translation “of the Yiddish ‘Reb Yid,’ which among Yiddish speakers was the usual polite way of addressing a Jewish man whose name one did not know” (email correspondence, 3 February 2018). Such a locution would suggest both the respect due to the Master and his somewhat mysterious or indeterminate origins. 14 Interestingly, in exploring the feminization of the image of the male Jew, Daniel Boyarin notes that “in early modern Europe, the little finger was referred to by gentiles in certain places as ‘the Jew’ ” (4). While I would not expect Auster to know this detail, it does lend additional depth to the covenantal implications of Walt’s sacrifice for his (Jewish) surrogate father. 15 Auster situates the tale in the heady years before the stock market crash of 1929—it begins when Walt is nine, “in 1927, the year of Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh” (3)—as a means of establishing Walt’s (and the country’s) innocence and energy. Walt’s vertigo, then, becomes a metaphor for how the dizzying opportunities that present themselves in early twentieth-century American popular culture, encouraging overreaching, are not only destroyed by socioeconomic realities but also exposed as destructive to the social fabric and the diversity of the American populace. 16 Other scholars have explored in more detail than I shall here the ways in which Motherless Brooklyn exemplifies what Peacock, quoting Marco Roth, calls the “neurological novel” (Lethem 100), in its representation of Tourettic speech. See, for example, Bennett Kravitz, who draws especially on Oliver Sacks’s case studies of people with Tourette’s; and Jennifer Fleissner, who explores the novel’s representation of symptoms to consider “the shift from psychoanalysis to neurology as the contender for the novel’s crown” (387)—that is, as the explanatory system for the novel’s meanings. 17 To be fair, motherlessness does appear in the notional generations bracketing that of the Minna Men, and Lethem’s interview with James Schiff introduces a biographical source for a fictional representation of motherlessness, in the fact that his mother died when he was fourteen (119). Lethem represents motherlessness in the menacing Clients, the older mobsters Matricardi and Rockaforte, within whose dealings Frank becomes trapped and who live in a dusty old brownstone in which Lionel detects “the presence of the past, of mothers and sons, deals and understandings, one dead hand gripping another” (Motherless 175); in Frank, whose mother dies and into whose apartment he moves with his wife, Julia (87), as if to substitute for the maternal function; and in Julia, too, who was for the young Lionel “the original woman” (297, italics in

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original) but who proves instead like the femme fatale of noir, “the hardestboiled of us all” (303). These figures put into relief the main narrative’s focus on fatherlessness, on the need for a father to provide knowledge, security, and identity. In this regard, it is intriguing that the novel’s dedication is “To my Father.” 18 Matthew Luter points out as well that Lionel’s verbal tics are often “echolalic imitations of Minna’s own language” (32); indeed, he may be seen to repurpose the Father’s language in more ways than one. 19 It may be no accident that the father’s final word—the command to remember— also, as I have noted, closes the narratives of two other Jewish sons, Auster in The Invention of Solitude (172) and Roth in Patrimony (238). 20 Equally relevant is Freud’s work in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), which treats all manner of expression—memory and forgetting, slips of the tongue and pen, bungled and chance actions, and so forth—as meaningful displacements and condensations of psychic material, in analyses he bases upon the principles described in The Interpretation of Dreams. See, for example, Psychopathology on slips of the tongue (59), on how slips of the tongue may approximate to jokes (77), and on how these mechanisms represent selfbetrayals (90). 21 Or at least so it appears to me. The best I can make of the word-jumble “Lionel Essrog” is “Loose Slinger.” Not bad, but alas, the wrong genre.

Chapter 6 1 Louisa Mackenzie takes a perceptive angle on the novel in relation to ecocriticism, noting that although “Nature in DeLillo’s novel is largely absent,” instead, “White Noise encourages us to consider how the human subject negotiates a distinctly postnatural environment, thus pushing the boundaries of first-wave ecocriticism” (51). 2 For a small sampling of the excellent discussions of White Noise from the perspective of DeLillo’s postmodern critique, see the work of Cornel Bonca, David Cowart, John Frow, Paula Geyh, Arno Heller, and Stacey Olster. For a superb recasting of questions about the postmodern self in relation to a “white fantasy of autonomous individualism” (760), see Tim Engles. Finally, for a fascinating critique of DeLillo’s postmodern critics, which argues that such criticism tends to define postmodernism as a crisis of heteronormative masculinity, see Sally Robinson, “Shopping for the Real.” 3 Henry Veggian argues that White Noise “was the first major work of American literary postmodernism to consider a family as central to its design in some way” (56). Veggian contrasts the novel with the “postgenealogical culture of Holden Caulfield,” arguing that generally, unlike the family in White Noise, “the families in the majority of postmodern literary narratives clashed against or drifted away from the great genealogical lines that ran through the writings of Faulkner and Steinbeck” (57). I would agree with the latter assessment of

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postmodern fiction, a point to which much of Fictive Fathers attests, but unlike Veggian, I see White Noise as a like participant in the “postgenealogical culture” of late-twentieth-century American fiction. 4 McCarthy leaves the origin of the catastrophe uncertain; the narration describes only “A long shear of light and then a series of low concussions” before “A dull rose glow in the windowglass” (52) becomes visible. The specific cause of the dystopian landscape is significant for some readings, but immaterial here, where, like the author himself, my interest lies in how the survivors confront their new conditions. Critics have offered excellent accounts to theorize and historicize the ideological predispositions of McCarthy’s vision of the pre-catastrophe world. See especially Heather J. Hicks, who draws on Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe as an ur-text in order to take a postcolonial perspective on The Road, with special attention to how the novel demonstrates the father’s efforts to “reconstitute the old world through language” and, ultimately, “impose his old-world epistemology on the new world” (87–88). See also Casey Jergenson, who argues that the novel offers a critique of “late capitalism and consumer culture” (117), leading, among other insights, to the provocative claim that “The cannibalism featured in the novel may be viewed not as a regression to some bestial state outside of ideology, but rather as a performance of ideology, a behavioral residue of late capitalist consumer culture” (125). 5 From another angle, Benjamin Mangrum explores the “absence in the form of McCarthy’s novel that laments the loss of a presence” by way of fragmented prose and narrative representing the characters’ “splintered visions,” such that the “formalistic absence mirrors the epistemic situation of the protagonists” (274). For his focus on the characters’ knowing, Mangrum draws on Stanley Cavell’s view of the tragic as “ordinary experience” (270) in which “efforts to secure certainty for our knowledge of others, the external world, and ultimately ourselves at best become failed ventures and at worst violent exploitations” (271). 6 Johns-Putra draws on Lee Edelman’s argument in No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (2004) against “reproductive futurism,” in which “the figure of the child” stands as “the alibi for our false and ultimately narcissistic attempts at realizing our own desires” as part of “our unquenchable desire for the future” (Johns-Putra 532). 7 Allen Josephs makes the case for the boy’s Christlike values which, he argues, would be “difficult to imagine without some a priori God” (137), and he also discovered that McCarthy’s working title was “The Grail” (134). Steven Frye puts the novel in the generic context of parable or allegory (164) as well as “Existential Christianity,” a theology that “finds God in the embodied reality of the material world, in a father and son and the stubborn will that binds them” (177). Alan Noble performs a close reading that takes off from a note in McCarthy’s typescript referring to Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling in order to reject skeptical or nihilistic readings: “we can reconcile the nihilism and hope in the novel not by dismissing either, but by seeing them as the absurd conditions of the man’s trial” (107). Although I would not go as far as Gary Adelman, who, acknowledging the “exquisite Christian parable” of the novel, still feels “slapstick by the end, and

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constrained by the naïve and childlike aspects of the narrative” (72), I do agree with his judgment that the “late turn to God” in McCarthy’s oeuvre “feels like capitulation” (55). 8 Frye, for example, notes direct echoes of two of Hemingway’s stories from In Our Time (1925), “Indian Camp” and “Cat in the Rain” (172). 9 Writing of this passage, Donovan Gwinner notes that it “relates synecdochically to the rest of the narrative” not only in that the man’s loss of words represents “the general trajectory of names and things moving toward ‘oblivion’ ” (143) but also in implying the move toward the father’s own death. Mark Steven makes the metafictional point that the novel’s “void” of language “presents itself as a kind of paradox: its advent names the unnamable as unnamed and so brings to light from implacable darkness the disintegration of a world whose destruction McCarthy has already made literal. But for McCarthy to annihilate the world it must first be written or ‘named’ into being” (73). The claim is intriguing and convincing, but it does not obviate the point that the vanishing referents track the vanishing things of the world. 10 See Dana Phillips, who explores McCarthy’s deployment of a “neutral” and “ironic” free indirect style (181). 11 I imagine the “ledgerbook” to resemble the “Book of Life” to which Jews aspire that their names will be added annually at Rosh Hashanah, as proof that they have lived righteously for the preceding year. Naomi Morgenstern interprets the image more broadly, as the “archive” of the patriarchal Western cultural tradition (44). A related allusion might be found in Faulkner’s “The Bear” (appearing in Go Down, Moses, 1942), where Ike McCaslin reads between the lines of the family’s ledger to discern a history of slavery’s horrors. In diverse ways, these possible referents all point to the system preserving patriarchal knowledge, value, or economics. 12 I cannot properly summarize Morgenstern’s superb reading of the novel here, though it may be best captured in her claim that “what The Road actually presents us with is an apocalyptic encounter with the Traumatic Real, with what happens when the Symbolic is blown away, [. . .] and then very tenuously seeks to reassert itself” (36). Although her reading is nuanced and aptly framed with psychoanalytic insights, I resist the positive postpatriarchal traces she finds in how the father’s relationship to the boy represents “not merely patriarchal fantasies of omnipotence but also the fragile possibility of a move beyond such fantasies” (45), that the father, in failing the child “strategically” (52) can “contemplate his own irrelevance to the son and to the future” (54). Such a conclusion, however modest in its hopes, seems to read against the grain of the novel’s nostalgia for the father. 13 Kollin quotes the term “male hysteria” from Timothy Corrigan’s 1991 study of road movies, A Cinema Without Walls. Corrigan argues that the road movie of the time “responds specifically to the recent historical fracturing of the male subject” (Corrigan 138). Kollin’s brief contextualization of The Road’s presentation of male hysteria is well supplemented by Megan Riley McGilchrist’s much more extensive treatment of McCarthy’s representation of post-1960s America.

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14 For an excellent argument that, despite how many have chosen to read The Road, it is not a climate change novel because it anthropocentrically mourns the loss of human rather than nonhuman nature, see Johns-Putra. See also the complementary argument by Rachel Greenwald Smith that The Road privileges the “affective value” (Affect 42) of a neoliberal ideology over the real consequences of the “larger social or ecological system,” such that “we invest ourselves in the urgency of the little boy and the man’s plight to the exclusion of the masses of sufferers who provide the backdrop for the story” (48). 15 Schaub aptly suggests that the opening phrase of the final paragraph—“Once there were”—recalls the form of a fairy tale. But whereas he contends this “fable” conveys “a melancholy warning” (166), I would suggest that the effect is of a fantasy, a beautiful, permanent memory taking place in a kind of timeless “once,” that substantially evades the hopeless conditions of the novel’s present. 16 Lee Clark Mitchell offers a stirring close reading of The Road, finding in it “the triumph of narrative as a sustaining endeavor,” wherein “the mystery of words [. . .] in fragile formulations and equivocal evocations keep alive the possibilities of stories themselves” in order to provide “a hope of recovering some sense of humanist regeneration” (205). The secular reading is perceptive and appealing, but its trajectory toward the boy learning “to speak [. . .] the lost world’s true legacy” (222) seems to me not only to deflect the novel’s fundamental irony but also, by remystifying the language of the fathers, to support a conservative reinstallation of the old world and values that, I think, are the novel’s main targets for critique, however ambivalent McCarthy remains. For another reading that focuses on the compensatory effects of style as counterposed to McCarthy’s subject matter, see David James.

Chapter 7 1 John Duvall and Robert Marzec refute the accusation that post-9/11 American literature “has retreated from politics into domesticity” by arguing for the effectiveness of an “oblique treatment of the root cause of a historical trauma” that they trace, for example, to Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926) and Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1925) (Duvall and Marzec 384). Certainly, Roth cloaks The Plot Against America within an insistent historical context announced in the novel’s title, Messud drives The Emperor’s Children’s chronology toward 9/11, and repressed memories of 9/11 and the Dresden firebombing throb beneath almost every page of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Still, the constraining perspectives of the young people who focalize or narrate each novel make it difficult to see beyond the immediate victims toward what Rachel Greenwald Smith calls “the much more complicated geopolitical context of the event” (“Shrapnel” 157–58). Sykes concurs, arguing that “the domestic focus is contradictorily the most prevalent in the novels immediately classified as ‘9/11 fiction’ ” (256). 2 “Some readers,” Roth wrote when the book was published in 2004, “are going to want to take this book as a roman à clef to the present moment in America.

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That would be a mistake” (“The Story Behind ‘The Plot Against America’ ” C11). Nevertheless, readers have not been shy in committing precisely that “mistake.” See, for example, Charles Lewis, Steven Kellman, and Dan Shiffman; see also the countering argument by, for example, Jason Siegel. 3 The novels are distinguished by voice and tense. Roth presents his first-person narrative voice largely in the simple past tense—a choice signaled by the first sentence’s announcement that he is recounting “memories” (Plot 1). Roth’s narrator is always an adult Philip looking back on his child self, conveying some distance on the counterhistorical events Roth invents. Foer’s tenses are less stable, shifting between the past and present or present progressive; Oskar exists often in the immediate moment of suffering. Messud’s novel appears in a conventional third-person voice in the past tense, but it shifts the focalization among the various main characters and at times includes free indirect discourse. 4 Subsequent to this reference to Philip, I will generally refer to the characters in the novel as Roths, by their first names, without the distraction of quotation marks to distinguish the fictive Roths from their historical counterparts, and relying on context to clarify the reference. Roth’s manipulation of the point of view is nuanced in ways that I am unable to take up here. To be as clean as possible, however, I will refer to the boy in the diegesis as Philip, to the extradiegetic writer of The Plot Against America as Roth, and to the voice of the narrator, when necessary, as the narrator or the adult Philip. 5 In a fascinating argument, Ann Basu takes a very different angle on the novel from my own, seeing it to be ideologically structured around the failures of fraternal bonds rather than the father/son relationship. See Basu pp. 129–54. 6 Yael Maurer aptly situates the representation of Herman Roth within the novel’s exploration of antisemitism in the United States, noting, “Herman posits the power of fatherhood and family. Roth seems to be clinging to this option as the only possible, if tenuous, safeguard in a hostile world” (59). She also discerns the novel’s implicit national analogy, wherein the “benevolent” father figure, Roosevelt, has been replaced by a more questionable father figure, Lindbergh, who, as the narrative later speculates, is corrupted by his bereavement over his own kidnapped son (58). 7 In his fascinating argument about how “the novel explores the role memory has come to play in politics and culture generally,” Gross makes the point that “Plot is best understood not as historical allegory or fake memory but as fictionalized memoir” (409). Benjamin Hedin succinctly points out the paradox in the novel’s form: it is “two books: a memoir—but a memoir about a time that never existed—and a historical novel about a past that never occurred” (“History” 93). Alan Cooper also sees the novel as “a memoir of sorts” (“It Can Happen Here” 241), noting that Roth has made earlier, overt “fictive uses of his family,” as in the story “Looking at Kafka” (246). 8 This view of Roth’s preoccupation with fathers is not uncommon. See, for example, Alex Hobbs (124) and Hedin, “Measure of All Things” 143. Parrish makes the penetrating claim that “Roth’s orientation as a Jewish-American writer is, finally, as a Jewish son,” including the ethical dimension that the father serves as “the undying conscience of the Jewish son” (“Roth and Ethnic Identity” 140).

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9 Interestingly, Roth does not add a play with tense to the other temporal tricks he plays in the novel. The narrator frames the tale with the present tense in the opening paragraph, which refers to his memories of the past and how “Fear presides over these memories” (1). But as a whole the novel appears in a conventional historical past tense, under the premise that the first-person narrator is recalling his childhood history in detail, and as the past, completed. Roth’s narratological choice underscores the novel’s deflection of real catastrophe, in that a reader discerns that the narrator tells the story unscathed, as if from a position in a future, unknown at the time of the story’s events, in which order has clearly been reestablished. Furthermore, as Catherine Morley persuasively argues, readers are obliged to attend to the layers of mediation implicit in Roth’s narrative form: “Roth warns his audience against reading [Philip] as a real version of himself, drawing attention to young Philip as the artificial appendage to something real, a series of characters and events drawn from reality. But the consciousness through which readers encounter these figures is a fabrication, a falsity” (142), such that the writer is a “creator of histories and complicit in their validity and/or falsification” (146). 10 Aimee Pozorski offers a nuanced reading of Roth’s idealizing use of the term “homeland,” pointing to the resonances for American Jews looking toward both Eastern European origins and the “language of early Zionism” (125). Brett Ashley Kaplan judges the novel’s framing “corny depiction of American idealism” as serving to “deepen the sense of traumatic devastation virtually all of his major characters feel when the mask is inevitably torn away” (158). 11 Maurer frames Roth’s deployment of the uncanny in terms of Jewish experience (54). Patrick Hayes develops a sophisticated argument that Philip’s “educat[ion] into the uncanny” (213) attunes him to the “instabilities of the self” (215), remaking the content of the Bildungsroman form of the novel (209). 12 Morley points out the novel’s multiple references to orphans, noting that Philip’s claim to being an orphan is a “gesture to rid himself of his history” (150, fn. 21). Parrish reverses the insight to underscore Philip’s multiple anxieties, suggesting that “The fear of being orphaned—being evacuated from your parents and thus your history—is at the heart of The Plot Against America” (“Roth and Ethnic Identity” 140). 13 I have explored the metaphor of the prosthesis at greater length in the essay “Prosthetic Fictions.” 14 According to Evelyn, when Lindbergh, fortified by his wife’s principles, eventually fails to carry out the Nazis’ bidding, his plane is dispatched from the skies and Anne Morrow Lindbergh is instructed to vanish from the political scene to prevent having her son sent to the Russian front (326). 15 Oskar’s grandmother is also a post-traumatic survivor, but the narrative arc Foer provides for her is toward a substantial reckoning with grief of which her husband is incapable. I address her characterization in “Prosthetic Fictions.” Foer’s characterizations of Oskar and his grandparents are frequently devoted to textuality itself, thereby creating one of the most compelling and complex features of the novel. For excellent treatments of the novel’s deconstructive foregrounding of textuality, see S. Todd Atchison, Mitchum Huehls chapter 3, and Earl G. Ingersoll.

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16 Oskar’s chapters frequently center on activities and fetish objects, meant, as Kristiaan Versluys suggests, “to make reality malleable so that it conforms to his desires” to make a world “in which the unthinkable has not yet happened” (102). He devises improbable inventions, which Versluys aptly identifies as “symptoms of a repetition compulsion” (103), such as a skyscraper that can move people safely to the ground after being hit by a plane, a birdseed shirt that allows someone falling through the sky to be rescued by hungry birds in flight, and “portable pockets” that might grow large enough to “hold the universe” safely (Extremely 3, 2, 71, 74). 17 From a very different angle, but with a similar conclusion that the novel does not accomplish a potential goal, Matthew Leggatt argues that inadvertently it contributes “to the preservation of the discourse [it] so keenly attempt[s] to expose”—a discourse promoting the “mythos” that 9/11 is a point of complete rupture in American history (206, 205). 18 Oskar seeks to puzzle out the mystery of the key, identified only by the word “Black,” hoping to construct a story to explain his loss. He quests across the five boroughs for the “Black” who possesses the lock that the key will open—that is, to unlock the story of his father’s death that remains closed to him. According to the Freudian narrative, Oskar hopes to gain the phallic power of the “key” that penetrates to knowledge. Because he has no reason to hope that this fetishized key has anything to do with Thomas’s disappearance in the Twin Towers, however, Oskar’s quest exhibits magical thinking. He implausibly solves the mystery of the key, but the solution is anticlimactic; it does not fill in his father’s history. 19 In this regard, Oskar replicates his grandmother’s dream of reversing time during the firebombing of Dresden: “the collapsed ceilings re-formed above us. The fire went back into the bombs” (306). In fantasizing the reverse of time, both characters engage in what Versluys calls “a sort of forgetting” (117). 20 Foer’s concluding device, like the novel as a whole, provoked controversy. For excellent reflections on his incorporation of the “falling man” photos into the flipbook at the end of the novel, see Philippe Codde 249–50; Naomi Mandel on the problem of fidelity to fact, especially 238–40; Aaron Mauro on photographic history, especially 596–601; and Chris Vanderwees, on the devices prompting “ethical recognition and responsibility” (174). For useful overviews of the positive and negative readings of the novel in general, in reviews and criticism, see Victoria Marie Bryan 274–75 and Vanderwees 184–85. 21 While Amanda Claybaugh argues that Messud’s satire precludes sympathy for her characters (15), I would suggest that Messud keeps the opposing modes in balance until the satire trumps the sympathy, when the narrative trajectory arrives at catastrophes large and small. 22 Reviewers have been all but universal in naming the genre of The Emperor’s Children as a “novel of manners.” See Claybaugh 15, Carol Iannone 70, Michiko Kakutani 1, Kate Levin 30, and Meghan O’Rourke 10. 23 I will thus not address in detail two members of the younger generation of emperor’s “children.” First, Ludo functions in the novel as an overt challenge to Murray on his own turf. A successful editor who scorns Murray as passé and

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effectively takes his daughter from him by marriage and influence, Ludo clearly serves as a displaced oedipal threat, attempting to “slay” the father figure. He sees himself as “ ‘an instrument to trumpet that the emperor has no clothes’ ” and wishes to debunk Murray as “ ‘the Wizard of Oz, a tiny, pointless man roaring behind a curtain’ ” (123). Second, Julius, the gay third member, with Marina and Danielle, of a trio of Brown University friends, who fashions himself unsuccessfully as a book and film reviewer, functions to diversify the sexual politics of the novel’s presentation of contemporary personae and social mores; he begins the narrative living “a life of Wildean excess and insouciance” (30–31), and descends through a sexual relationship into relative poverty and pathos. 24 Murray’s treatment of his wife, Annabel, is in keeping with his objectifying, masculinist view of Marina, and of women in general. He takes Annabel’s hard work for granted—both her social services job and the perfection of her housekeeping—and she remains loyal and relatively invisible to him. Like Marina, she seems to exist in his life largely as an extension of his own prowess.

Chapter 8 1 Without rehearsing here the extensive critical and historical work on the Vietnam War and its literature, I will note the excellent overview of the shifting image of the Vietnam veteran in American society recounted by Regula Fuchs, who points out how the image “transformed [. . .] in order to fit the mythic structures” (48) of American ideologies, moving from the frontier myth through the image of the psychotic killer in popular media, to an image of the alienated sufferer from PTSD. See also Susan Jeffords’s excellent account of the compensatory post-Vietnam War invention of the myth of masculine bonding to regenerate the ideology of American masculinity. 2 To avoid distraction, however, I will hereafter omit the quotation marks around “Vietnam,” with the expectation that the context of my discussion will clarify whether its local denotation is abstract or concrete. Others have noted the transformation of “Vietnam” into an abstraction. Mark Heberle, for example, observes from a national perspective that it is “a synecdoche, a signifier for one of the most significant public policy catastrophes in American history” (xiv); Stefania Ciocia calls it “an ideological signifier for the futilely destructive American military, political, and economic intervention in Southeast Asia and its cultural and political ramifications within the United States and elsewhere” (17). 3 When Hirsch revised her article for her monograph, she dropped the hyphen in “post-memory,” a choice I shall follow below. 4 Lisa Hinrichsen likewise identifies Sam’s environment as “a web of disavowal, denial, and forgetting” (235). 5 See, for example, Hinrichsen, pp. 237–38; McDermott, esp. pp. 7–9; and Joanna Price, pp. 75–76.

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6 See Hinrichsen 237 ff.; McDermott 11; Price 73–74. Christina Meyer offers a thorough, representative catalogue of the novel’s references to popular and consumer culture of the time, running from television shows, public figures, and entertainers, to well-known product names, ads, businesses, and technological developments, p. 356. 7 See McLuhan; and White, “The Value of Narrativity.” 8 Benjamin famously describes the “aura” as “the here and now of the work of art” (1053), which is “what withers in the age of the technological reproducibility of the work of art” (1054). 9 Sam’s disenchantment with the image of masculinity she finds in Dwayne’s diary echoes Michael Kimmel’s historical analysis of the “masculine mystique” which began in the 1960s to be “exposed as a fraud” (173). Kimmel writes: “one of the most reliable refuges for beleaguered masculinity, the soldier/protector, fell into [. . .] disrepute as the news about Vietnam filtered home” (174). 10 Meyer makes an intriguing passing allusion to the “ ‘mirror-stage-like’ encounter” (378) that closes the novel, and one could argue that the two images—the visually mirroring surface of the Memorial and the conceptually mirroring etching of the name—conjure the Lacanian narrative. But because Sam seems blind to the possible differentiation of self these moments might mean rather than illuminated by them, I am inclined to see this as an unfulfilled allusion. 11 The most compelling discussions of O’Brien’s presentation of history in In the Lake of the Woods appear in Timothy Melley’s fine essay, where he builds a carefully theorized case for understanding “the production of history (that is, historical narrative) [. . .] through a model of traumatic repression” (113); and Samuel Cohen’s response, contesting Melley’s historical skepticism. Ciocia briefly mentions Hutcheon’s argument for historiographic metafiction as a descriptor for the genre of O’Brien’s novel (105). 12 Melley offers a succinct overview of some of the most important theorizing about traumatic memory and amnesia (108–11), with special focus on the work of Cathy Caruth (Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History, 1996), Judith Herman (Trauma and Recovery, 1992), and Ruth Leys (Trauma: A Genealogy, 2000). 13 Although the “Evidence” chapters include a mix of real-world, extradiegetic quotations from various sources and fictional, diegetic “quotations” from the players in O’Brien’s novel, I will not insert quotation marks to distinguish the real from the fictional sources; the name of the source should suffice to make the distinction. 14 Herzog (Tim O’Brien 33) and Heberle (249) observe the recurrent theme in O’Brien’s novels of the father/son relationship, especially insofar as the son seeks to gain the father’s love. Herzog notes that O’Brien had a complex relationship with his own father, an alcoholic who teased him about his weight, and that O’Brien turned to performing magic tricks as a child (8–10). O’Brien told Herzog in an interview that he used magic as “a way of escaping the world [. . .]—my sense of not being loved, my father’s alcoholism, my feeling lonely. [. . .] making miracles happen, a way of earning applause” (“Interview” 105).

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O’Brien is at pains, however, implicitly to distinguish his father from Paul Wade, claiming that his own father was “a dominantly positive influence” (“Interview” 104). But he also confesses in “The Vietnam in Me” that “I have done bad things for love, bad things to stay loved” (4). 15 According to Melley, Wade’s commitment to secrets allegorizes the traumatic model of history, in which the repression Wade represents “permits the concomitant view that History itself is a ‘secret,’ that the past is altogether inaccessible,” permitting “an entire society committed to [. . .] forms of forgetting and ‘deniability’ ” (121). 16 Nabokov’s Pale Fire (1962) offers a teasing exemplar of the highly subjective footnote parodying academic discourse—such as that appearing in this note. 17 The “Hypothesis” chapters work in fascinating ways cognitively. Though O’Brien draws on conditional language, a reader is easily tempted to follow the line of reasoning of each hypothesis, erasing the memory of the “maybes,” toward some conviction that each conjectured story is “true,” at least while the reader remains in the midst of these chapters. This happens despite a reading experience that keeps overturning hypotheses with alternative accounts or further “evidence.” This readerly experience—which my students have repeatedly confirmed—makes the arguments about the power of narrative order especially resonant, as for example, Peter J. Rabinowitz makes in Before Reading, when he talks about “privileged positions” within his “rules of notice” (58–65). 18 Cohen is again specifically responding to Melley’s reading of In the Lake of the Woods. 19 Critics have also argued that O’Brien links American atrocities against the Vietnamese to those perpetrated historically against Native Americans. See Regula Fuchs 198; and Ciocia 112–13. Fuchs claims that, in focusing on the history in Vietnam as traumatic for Americans, Melley diminishes the suffering of the Vietnamese (197). 20 For a thoughtful exploration of Nguyen’s focus on doubling in relation to the novel’s multiple genres, see Sarah Chihaya. 21 Nguyen’s choice of form is resonant; as he noted to an interviewer, “The confession is a literary form that became, under communism, a political form” (Seaman 8). The notion of confession, of course, also invokes the Catholic devotional practice, alluding ironically to the viciously hypocritical priest-father of the narrator. 22 In perhaps the most incisive review of the novel, Grayson Clary asserts, “each citation is revenge, asymmetric, on the Westerners who don’t see a Westerner in him” (2). 23 Clary notes that Nguyen’s novel is “an enciphering of Greene’s novel” and that, in fact, Nguyen makes The Quiet American “a spoiled referent” (3) because The Sympathizer “uses and abuses Greene’s tropes,” making it difficult “to use [Greene’s] vision to imagine Vietnam” (3). Given Nguyen’s position as a Professor of English, American Studies, and Ethnicity and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California, this episode also serves as an inside joke about academic reading.

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24 René Girard developed his notion of mimetic desire at length in Deceit, Desire and the Novel (1965). Later, he succinctly summarized the concept in Violence and the Sacred (1972). In defining “the rival’s position within the system to which he belongs, in relation to both subject and object” of desire, Girard’s insight is that “rivalry does not arise because of the fortuitous convergence of two desires on a single object; rather, the subject desires the object because the rival desires it. In desiring an object the rival alerts the subject to the desirability of the object” (Violence 145, italics in original). 25 Nguyen told Seaman that Apocalypse Now was “a formative film for me as a young boy,” making him feel “split in two” because he identified with the Americans until “the moment they killed Vietnamese people”—an experience he found “traumatizing,” and against which he “wanted to have my revenge” (9). But he also told Kanyakrit Vongkiatkajorn that his relationship to the film “has been ambivalent. I respect it as a work of art” (55); he qualified his point with David Streitfeld, “It was an antiwar movie about the war in Vietnam, but the movie was about Americans. [. . .] The Vietnamese were silent and erased.” See Sylvia Shin Huey Chong for a nuanced discussion of how the novel develops its intertextual play with Coppola’s film to illustrate “the dangers of allowing oneself to be represented by others” (371). 26 Although Nguyen’s use of the term “hamlet” accurately names the small village, it conjures other points of reference. Most obvious is Shakespeare’s play, which also refers to patricide and oedipal conflict; at further remove but still intriguing is Faulkner’s 1940 novel The Hamlet, an allusion that not only hints at other connections to that writer of American cultural dysfunction and devastation, but also, more specifically, introduces class warfare in the mode of grotesque black comedy. 27 I wish to thank Carolyn Durham for pointing out Nguyen’s echo of Surname Viet Given Name Nam, released in 1989. In Lan P. Duong’s account of the film, which in its first half presents diasporic Vietnamese American women performing translated interviews of postwar Vietnamese women, the parallels with Nguyen’s project become apparent: “Trinh occupies the role of translator and traitor, willfully mistranslating and misrepresenting the Vietnamese female subject in ways that render her unintelligible and illegible as an object of Western inquiry” (126). 28 “Nothing” is arguably the revelatory endpoint for King Lear as well, and it seems likely that Shakespeare provides yet another reference point within Nguyen’s deeply allusive texture.

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270

INDEX

A Prayer for Owen Meany (Irving) 20, 27–28 A Regular Guy (Simpson) 103 A Thousand Acres (Smiley) 20, 51–57 Aarons, Victoria 72–73 Absalom, Absalom! (Faulkner) 17, 225 “acting-out” (Freud) 104 Alford, Steven 116 algia (longing) 8 Altman, Robert 202 American Dream 1, 11, 42, 57, 95, 130, 133, 134, 152, 167 American Pastoral (Roth) 67 Andersen, Hans Christian 188–89 Annesley, James 42 Anthropocene Era 146, 150 “anti-narrative” 112 Anxiety of Influence, The (Bloom) 26 Anywhere but Here (Simpson) 95–96, 99, 103 Apocalypse Now (Coppola) 205, 218–24, 253n.25 Art Lover, The (Maso) 21–22, 94–95, 101–14, 239nn.6, 10–11 Aureole (Maso) 106, 239n.8 Austen, Jane 190 Auster, Paul, and Carole Maso 103 and Cormac McCarthy 157 his novels 115–34, 240nn.1, 3-4, 241–42nn.6-7, 12 introduction 19–20, 22, 25 and Jonathan Lethem 135 and Philip Roth 176 Barthelme, Donald 2, 15, 17–18, 231n.15 Barthes, Roland 15, 148

Basu, Ann 175, 247n.5 Bates, Milton J. 210 Baudrillard, Jean 149–50 Beckett, Samuel 17, 68, 169 Beloved (Morrison) 160 Benjamin, Walter 203, 251n.8 Bentham, Jeremy 40 Berger, James 143 Beuka, Robert 11 Beyond the Pleasure Principle (Freud) 30 Bishop, Elizabeth 102 “Blackness of Blackness, The” (Gates) 135 Bloom, Harold 26, 34 Boxall, Peter 146–47, 151 Boyarin, Daniel 133, 242n.13 Boym, Svetlana 8 Brando, Marlon 222 Brauner, David 34–37, 52–53, 55–56, 171–72 Brooks, Peter 5, 122 Camus, Albert 155 Cant, John 166, 168 Carden, Mary Paniccia 52–53 “carrying the fire” 164 Caruth, Cathy 96, 98 castration 4, 16, 34, 101, 133, 210, 232n.5 Chekhov, Anton 89 Chopra-Gant, Mike 13 Christianity 74, 80–81, 112 Cider House Rules, The (Irving) 28–30, 35–36, 232n.5 circumcision 118, 133 City of Glass (Auster) 22, 116–22, 127–28, 130–31, 134–35 271

272

INDEX

Civilization and Its Discontents (Freud) 40, 68–69 Cixous, Hélène 106 Clary, Grayson 220–21, 252nn.22-23 Claybaugh, Amanda 189, 249nn.21-22 climate change 168, 246n.14 Coe, Jonathan 96 cogito (Descartes) 117 Cohen, Samuel 215 Cold War 167, 197, 215 Con Davis, Robert 15–16 conscription 13 Cooke, Carolyn 96 Cooper, Alan 65, 235n.11 Cooper, James Fenimore 9 Coppola, Francis Ford 218, 222 Corrections, The (Franzen) 20, 25, 34–49, 51, 54, 57, 233n.13 corrigere 34–35 Dante 112 Davis, Robert Con 5, 183 Dead Father, The (Barthelme) 17–18 “Decline of Patriarchy, The” (Ehrenreich) 9 DeLillo, Don 22–23, 37, 145–56, 157, 163, 171, 189 Demuth, Charles 113 Deresiewicz, William 68, 236n.14 Derrida, Jacques 74, 129, 187 Descartes, René 39, 117, 136 Dickens, Charles 36 Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (Tyler) 20–21, 51–52, 56–64, 99, 235nn.5-9 Duban, James 72, 236n.19 Durham, Carolyn 224, 253n.27 Duvall, John 172, 246n.1 Ebert, Teresa L. 18 Eder, Richard 96, 238n.2 Ehrenreich, Barbara 9 Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, The (Marx) 48 Eliot, T. S. 106, 170–71 Emperor’s Children, The (Messud) 23, 171–72, 188–96, 249– 50nn.22-23

Epstein, Joseph 37 Eugenides, Jeffrey 21, 93–95 Everyman (Roth) 52, 66–69, 73, 236nn.14,16,18 “Experience” (Robinson) 75 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Foer) 23, 171–73, 182–88, 248–49nn.15-20 Facts, The (Roth) 177–78 Falk, Gary 103, 113–14 “family romance” 26–27 Father Knows Best (tv show) 10 Faulkner, William 16, 76–77, 158, 225–26, 237n.23, 238nn.34-35 Fear and Trembling (Kierkegaard) 160 fellatio 34 Ferraro, Thomas J. 152 Foer, Jonathan Safran 23, 171–74, 182–88, 196, 249n.20 Foucault, Michel 40 Fowler, Thomas 222 Franzen, Jonathan, and Anne Tyler 57, 59, 62 and ineffectual fathers 145 introduction 20, 25 and Jane Smiley 54 works of 34–49, 51, 233nn.13, 16-20 Freedom (Franzen) 48–49 Freud, Sigmund, acting-out/working-through 104 and Civilization and Its Discontents 40, 68–69 and dreams 32 and grief 103–4 introduction 5–6 and jokes 141–42 “masterplot” of 122 notion of the family romance 96, 177 oedipal model of 26–27 repetition compulsion 30–31, 208 and repression 139, 211 Friedman, Ellen G. 12–13, 15, 183 Frye, Steven 161, 245n.8 Fuchs, Lawrence H. 67, 118

INDEX

Gaddis, William 37 Gates, Henry Louis 135 gender equality 12 Genesis 90 Ghost Writer, The (Roth) 65 Gilbert, Sandra 60, 235n.6 Gilead (Robinson) 21, 52, 73–88, 99, 238nn.32-33 Gilman, Charlotte Perkins 98 Giotto 107, 239n.9 Giotto space probe 113 Girard, René 222, 253n.24 Girl with the Pearl Earring, The (Vermeer) 107–8 God 72, 74, 97, 111, 121, 156, 160–62, 168–69, 175 Going After Cacciato (O’Brien) 200 Gonzalez, Jeffrey 81 Great War see World War I Green, Jeremy 35, 48, 233nn.17-19,21 Greene, Graham 221–22, 224 Greenwald Smith, Rachel 173 Gross, Andrew S. 176, 247n.7 Gubar, Susan 60, 235n.6 Gwinner, Donovan 163, 245n.9 Halley’s Comet 113 Hamlet (Shakespeare) 16 Harris, Charles B. 106 Harter, Carol C. 33 hegemonic masculinity 3, 229n.1 Hemingway, Ernest 16, 161, 245n.8 Henkle, Roger B. 56, 234–35n.4 Herzog, Tobey 208, 214, 251–52n.14 Herzogenrath, Bernd 116, 240n.1, 241nn.10-11 Hinrichsen, Lisa 200, 202, 205, 250n.4 Hirsch, Marianne 199, 214, 250n.3 historiographic metafiction theory 207, 219, 221 Hoborek, Andrew 11 Holberg, Jennifer 81, 237n.30 Holocaust, The 118, 214 Home (Robinson) 52, 73, 75–76, 78, 81–88, 238n.31 Horton, Ray 75, 236–37n.22 Hotel New Hampshire, The (Irving) 25–26, 29

273

Housekeeping (Robinson) 86 “Humanism” (Robinson) 74 Hutcheon, Linda 207, 219, 221, 228 Hutchinson, Colin 38 Iannone, Carol 196 In Country (Mason) 23, 197, 199–206, 251n.9 In the Lake of the Woods (O’Brien) 23, 197–200, 206–16, 251nn.11,13, 252n.17 “Indian Camp” (Hemingway) 16 Indignation (Roth) 52, 66–73 Interpretation of Dreams, The (Freud) 142 Invention of Solitude, The (Auster) 19, 117–18, 122, 130 Irving, John 20, 25–38, 115, 122, 176, 231–32nn.1-9 Irwin, Mark 130 It Can’t Happen Here (Lewis) 182 James, Henry 190 Jews 67, 70, 118, 131, 141, 242nn.13-14 Johns-Putra, Adeline 159, 244n.6 Josephs, Allen 160, 244–45n.7 Juncker, Clara 214–15 Kauvar, Elaine 176, 181 Keeble, Arin 190 Kellogg, Robert 37 Kierkegaard, Søren 160 Kimmel, Michael 12, 230–31n.13 King Lear (Shakespeare) 51, 54–56, 234n.2 Kingston, Maxine Hong 227 Knapp, Kathy 14, 231n.14 Knights, Ben 3, 4, 229n.3 Kollin, Susan 167, 245n.13 Kowaleski-Wallace, Beth 7, 12, 212 Kristeva, Julia 125 Lacan, Jacques, development of symbolization 115–16, 137–39 the father question 6–8, 67–69, 74, 118–19, 150 and Freud 4

274

INDEX

mirror stage 212 the phallic signifier 101 process of individuation 100 symbolic social order 135 and “what do you want” question 97 LaCapra, Dominick 103–4, 114, 159, 238–39n.5 Last Real Man myth 9 Lavender, William 116 Leave It to Beaver (tv show) 10 “ledgerbook” 166, 245n.11 Leggatt, Matthew 187, 249n.17 Lethem, Jonathan 22, 115–16, 134–43, 145–46, 242–43n.17 Leverenz, David 9–11 Lewis, Sinclair 182 Light in August (Faulkner) 76–77 Lila (Robinson) 52, 73, 75, 79, 86–90, 95, 237n.26 Little, William 116, 241n.6 Lost Father, The (Simpson) 21, 94–103, 197, 238n.3 Luter, Matthew 142, 242n.18 M*A*S*H (tv show) 202 “Magic Show, The” (O’Brien) 214 McCarthy, Cormac 22, 145–47, 157–70, 171, 187, 244nn.4-5 McDermott, Sinéad 200, 202 Mackenzie, Louisa 147, 243n.1 McLuhan, Marshall 202 Mangrum, Benjamin 162 Martelle, Scott 193 Marx, Karl 48, 227 Marzec, Robert 172, 246n.1 Maso, Carole 21–22, 94–95, 101–14, 115, 188, 239–40nn.7-12 Mason, Bobbie Ann 23, 197, 199–207 Matisse, Henri 113 Maurer, Yael 175, 247n.6, 248n.11 Mauro, Aaron 81 melancholia 8 Melley, Timothy 209, 211, 214, 251n.12, 252n.15 Messud, Claire 23, 171–74, 188–96, 249n.21 #MeToo movement 14 Meyer, Christina 202, 206, 251n.10

Miller, Gabriel 33 mise en abyme 212 Mitchell, Lee Clark 169, 246n.16 modernity 8, 106 Moon Palace (Auster) 22, 117, 122–30, 134 Morgenstern, Naomi 166, 245n.12 Morley, Catherine 177, 248nn.9,12 Morrison, Toni 160 motherhood 15, 58–59, 64 Motherless Brooklyn (Lethem) 22, 134–43, 242–43n.16-18 “Mourning and Melancholia” (Freud) 103 Mr. Vertigo (Auster) 22, 117, 130–34, 242n.13,15 Murray, Jennifer 8 My Lai massacre 23, 208, 212–16 Nabokov, Vladimir 215, 252n.16 Name-of-the-Father concept (Lacan) 68–69, 74, 76, 101, 121–22, 153, 163, 169 Natty Bumppo (Cooper) 9, 11 Nelson, Dana D. 11–12 Nemesis (Roth) 21, 52, 66–67, 71–73, 236n.19 New Adam 166 Nguyen, Viet Thanh 23–24, 198–99, 216–28, 252n.21, 253n.25-26, 28 9/11, and Claire Messud 188–89, 192–96 and Cormac McCarthy 167 and Don DeLillo 246n.1 introduction 14, 23 and Jonathan Safran Foer 186, 188 and politics 171–74, 182 Noli me tangere (Giotto) 107 nom du père 150 North Point Press 108 nostos (return home) 8 Oates, Nathan 189, 194 O’Brien, Tim 23, 103, 197–200, 206–17, 251n.11, 252n.19 Odyssey, The 15–16

INDEX

Oedipus complex 6–7, 26, 30 Oedipus Rex 122, 134 Oliver, Kelly 9, 230n.10 Other, the 97–98, 114, 215 Painter, Rebecca 81, 237n.29 Pale Fire (Nabokov) 215, 252n.16 Panopticon (Bentham) 40, 44 parenting 15 Parrish, Timothy 176 paternalism 10–11 patrilineage 64, 68, 76, 80, 88 patrimony 89, 238n.36 Patrimony (Roth) 18–19, 65–66, 73, 177, 181 Patton, Paul 164–65 Peacock, James 135 Pearl Harbor 173 Petry, Alice Hall 57 phallic signifiers 101 phallus, the 4, 101, 229n.4 Pleasure of the Text, The (Barthes) 148 Plot Against America, The (Roth) 22–23, 171–73, 174–82, 247n.4, 248n.14 Poe, Edgar Allan 142 Portnoy’s Complaint (Roth) 19 “post memory” (concept) 199 post-Enlightenment 88, 157, 165–66 post-post-Enlightenment 147 postmodernism 135, 149, 163, 194, 207, 209 Price, Joanna 202 Prodigal Son 55, 234n.3 Pynchon, Thomas 37 Quiet American, The (Greene) 221–22 Real, the 6 Red Dawn (Falk) 113 “Remembering Repeating and Working-Through” (Freud) 103 repetition compulsion 30–31 Road, The (McCarthy) 22, 145–46, 157–70, 171–72, 179, 187, 244n.4, 245n.12, 246n.14

275

Robinson, Marilynne 52, 73–91, 95, 99, 145, 236–37nn.22-25, 29 Robinson, Sally 12, 16, 21 Roth, Herman 66–69, 71, 103, 175–77, 182 Roth, Philip, and Claire Messud 188, 196 introduction 18–19, 21–23 and Marilynne Robinson 73–75 middle-class America 52, 236nn.15-16 and Patrimony 233n.18 politics and 9/11 171–74 representations of father figures 65–73, 145 The Plot Against America 174–82, 246–48nn.2-3, 8-9 Rousselot, Elodie 218 Royal, Derek Parker 236n.17, 270 Russell, Alison 116 Ryan, Barbara T. 201 Sacks, Oliver 136 Sanctuary (Faulkner) 17, 158 Schaub, Thomas 164, 169, 246n.15 Schleifer, Ronald 136 Scholes, Robert 37 Schopenhauer, Arthur 39–40, 42 Schwartz, Nina 6, 230n.6 Schwenger, Peter 18, 231n.15 Setting Free the Bears (Irving) 20, 27 Shakespeare, William 16, 51–52, 54, 56 Sheen, Martin 222–23 “Signifyin’ monkey” (Gates) 135 Silbergleid, Robin 112, 240n.12 Silverman, Kaja 4, 6–7, 229n.2 Simpson, Mona 21, 94–103, 115, 188, 197, 238nn.3-4 Smiley, Jane 20, 51–56, 65, 73, 75, 90, 234n.1 Smyth, Jacqui 95 Snow, Edward 107 Sound and the Fury, The (Faulkner) 16–17 Stirling, Grant 105, 113, 239n.7 Stranger, The (Camus) 155 Strehle, Susan 52–53

276

Strong Motion (Franzen) 37 Stubblebine, James 107 Study of Vermeer (Snow) 107–8 Sun Also Rises, The (Hemingway) 16 Sykes, Rachel 172 Sympathizer, The (Nguyen) 24, 198–200, 216–28, 252n.22 Tanner, Laura 80, 237n.28 Telémakhos 16 Thompson, James R. 33 Thoreau, Henry David 216 Timson, Judith 96 Toal, Catherine 37–38 Tobin, Patricia Drechsel 147–48, 150, 154 Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 201 Torah, the 67, 70 Totem and Taboo (Freud) 5–6, 30 Tourette’s syndrome 135–43 Tracy, Spencer 180 “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (Eliot) 106 trauma 96 Trump, Donald 23 Twenty-Seventh City, The (Franzen) 37 Tyler, Anne 20–21, 51–52, 56–65, 75, 99, 115, 235nn.8-10 umbrellas 127 Updike, John 1 Varney, Susan 6–7 Veggian, Henry 152, 243–44n.3 Vermeer 107–8 Vertigo, Mr. (Auster) 130–34, 157 Viet Cong 212–13, 225

INDEX

“Vietnam in Me, The” (O’Brien) 214, 216, 218 Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, DC 203, 205 Vietnam War 23, 167, 197–98, 202, 205–7, 210, 212–25, 250n.1 Virgin and Child on Starry Background (Matisse) 113 Virgin Suicides, The (Eugenides) 21, 93–95, 238n.1 Voelker, Joseph 63–64 Waiting for Godot (Beckett) 17 Washington, George 9, 230n.11 “Waste Land” (Eliot) 169–70 Weineck, Silke-Maria 4–5, 230nn.5, 9 White, Hayden 149, 202 White Noise (DeLillo) 22, 145–57, 162–64, 171–72, 179, 243–44nn.2-3 Wilcox, Leonard 149–50 Williams, Rowan 85 Williams, William Carlos 113 Winfrey, Oprah 37 Woman Warrior, The (Kingston) 227 “working-through” (Freud) 104 World According to Garp, The (Irving) 20, 25–27, 29–36, 71, 232n.7-10, 233n.11 World War I 6–7 World War II 10, 13, 23, 167, 171–72, 197 Yaeger, Patricia 7, 12 Yeats, W. B. 192 Yellow Wallpaper, The (Gilman) 98 Žižek, Slavoj 97, 99, 101, 114