Quick Takes: Three New American Novels

Although the plot-line is a disguised traditional linear narrative interspersed with attempts at heightened passages relating to the migration of birds and their once-a-year mating dances in Nebraska as a leitmotif, THE ECHO-MAKER by Richard Powers, is a most accomplished novel presenting a number of issues relating to paranoia, brain damage, pharmacology, male bonding, sibling love and family dysfunction, betrayal, and the fictionalized pursuits of Oliver Sacks, in a deep and serious way. Last year it won The National Book Award, and deservedly so. An intriguing and compulsive read, if a bit overly influenced by nineteenth century fiction.

Most critics have commented on the brutality of Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD; however, I found its vision of despair rather sentimental, especially at the end. Early on, very little attention is given to the suicide of the wife, which sets father and son on the road in a post-nuclear-disaster world, a writerly equivalent of Gwathmey's painting "The Observer". Extremely well-written of course, and quite spare, more a novella than a novel, probably the author's best work since BLOOD MERIDIAN, which WAS quite brutal.

Amazing that at 80+ years, Norman Mailer still has the stamina for a novel, and a major work of fiction at that. Not so much an imaginative biography of Hitler, pre-puberty, as a well-researched take on Hitler's father and mother. Mailer takes the position (first espoused by Ron Rosenbaum) that Hitler was monochordist, and he investigates the incest which Mailer claims produced him. This of course does not explain germanic fascist fanaticism, except in Mailer's discussions of the gutterel nature of the language. Mailer's theology, which he has pondered for well over forty years, comes to the fore in this book for the first time in his career, and I would expect a sequel (or a part II) to be in the works. I must admit to not (yet) having read THE NAKED AND THE DEAD, but THE CASTLE IN THE FOREST is, in my opinion, Mailer's finest novel, dazzling and textured. Not for feminists who are not transgressive.