In his first novel, What I'm Going to Do, I Think (1969) Woiwode used the right sentiment and a little symbolism to achieve...



In his first novel, What I'm Going to Do, I Think (1969) Woiwode used the right sentiment and a little symbolism to achieve a guilelessly attuned work which was appreciated as such. This long commemorative, however, turns backward and stretches out over an endless expanse of North Dakota flatlands. For the symbolism, Woiwode substitutes all the paraphernalia which confirms the existence that was--as if you were to thumb through an old ""Mont Ward"" catalogue or one of the three scrapbooks in the family of Martin Neumiller. Indeed the novel is too literally a scrapbook pieced together from a series of insets which have appeared in various publications, from McCall's to The New Yorker which published fourteen of these uncountable chapters. They are loosely joined or not at all and include anything from diaries to letters to poems representing three generations of Martin's family, from his old German father who stayed all too put, to his five children who will ultimately grow up and grow away. You will wander from the post office to the old Opera House, from the attic to the basement. Some readers will leave early on by the kitchen door. Woiwode covers a lot of native American ground and common experience but where he really connects--most affirmatively, most affectingly--is when he confronts dying, Henry James' ""real thing."" In the opening scene (to be followed up toward the end) Martin with loving hands prepares his father's body for burial in a plain box. And later when his wife Alpha and mother of his five children dies--a fact none of them can excise: in the words of one of the children ""It was as if her childhood had passed into darkness."" But as another says, ""The smallest detail from then is clearer in my mind than what I did last year, or yesterday, or the day before that, and the older I grow and the farther I get from those days, the clearer and more important the details seem."" Woiwode's primarily descriptive talent--which has a chaste and sometimes lyrical realism all his own--is all too devoted to those details which conserve a time and a place before it became ""All those empty spaces with nothing but a pair of railroad tracks stretched out as straight as a string."" It also re-establishes that home is where you hang your childhood on that oak-grained rack in order to find yourself.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 1975


Page Count: -

Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1975