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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Sunday, May 14, 2017

An abundance of detail but no organizing principle in Testing the Current

He tried - in section 5 (of 6, plus a very short section 7) William McPherson tries to introduce some plot elements into his long memoir-like novel Testing the Current, as the section begins with the 8-year-old Tommy looking out from his window as one of the furnaces in the factory where his father works as an executive explodes into the night sky. We soon learn that three workers died in the explosion. This development could have some potential interest: to what degree if any is his father complicit? How do these deaths effect the small Michigan city, at which we sense the factory is the economic heart of the matter? But, no, WMcP can't bring himself to write about any of these developments. Father has to notify the families of the death - but as the novel is told entirely from Tommy's POV we don't see any of these scenes. We hear the father arguing w/ the mother about something related to the tragic events, but what? As with so much else in this novel, in the end nothing much happens, Tommy has a vague sense - based on a visit he'd made to his father's workplace - that his father may have been aware of some flaw in the system and not acted quickly enough to rectify the situation. But it's all in a fog, a miasma - as the story - once again! - becomes about his mother's social life at the country club, about gifts and holidays. How many times! Similarly, WMcP introduces the idea that Tommy's mother may be having an affair with a dashing Canadian businessman, Mr. Wolfe. Once again - we expect that maybe Tommy will have a glimpse of them in some compromising situation, or hear something derogatory from a neighbor or a neighborhood kid. But - no - there are a few hints and innuendos and a strange scene in which the mother locks herself out of the house and Mr. Wolfe climbs a ladder into Tommy's bedroom to gain entrance - but what's the point? As in all other sections of this novel, so far, and I'm almost done, there is an abundance of detail about daily life but no organizing principle, not plot development, and no reflective consciousness (as in say Proust's narration, in which the narrator provides constant insight into the process of recalled memory).

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