As dense and textured, and full of quick wit as Powers' first book (Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, 1985), his new...

READ REVIEW

PRISONER'S DILEMMA

As dense and textured, and full of quick wit as Powers' first book (Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, 1985), his new novel shimmers with a brilliance all its own, linking the nightmarish intimacy of family life to the genuine nightmares of our time. The Hobsons have no choice, unlike the prisoners in the familiar conundrum that gives this fiction its title. Paterfamilias, Edward Hobson, suffers from a debilitating sickness, and his family must somehow finds its cause and cure, not to mention its name. ""The secret code of family""--the cracked sense of humor that underpins ""Hobsonspeak""--helps deflect attention from the clear and present dilemma. Dad himself ""hides behind questions""--he's ""the last generalist,"" a compulsive quizzer, a former high-school history teacher, a charming lunatic, a relentless pursuer of facts, and ""fiercely alone and lost."" To Fund his way through the maze of post-war life, he plays with words, freely associating, and spends trancelike periods elaborating Hobstown, ""an Erewhon, an Emerald City"" of his own devising. His family (long-suffering Mom and the four baby-boomer kids) tolerates his ""anti-social obsession"" but fret over the increasing physical symptoms of Dad's Nuclear Age malaise. Are his fainting fits, attacks of paralysis, and nausea a ""confidence game?"" The onset of psychosis? Or just the plague of someone who lives in vignettes, thinks in maxims, and delights in contemporary madness? Artie, the oldest child and law student; Rachel, the flaky actuary and smart-lip; Lily, the anxious ex-radical; and Ed, Jr., the good-natured regular guy--each, in his or her way, seeks diagnosis, despite the familial tendency to speak in tongues. The turning points in Big Ed's life eventually fall into place: his brother's accidental death as a pilot in WW II; his glimpse of the future at the 1939 World's Fair; his witnessing of Mickey Mouse being used as propaganda; and his inadvertent viewing of ""the first light"" at Los Alamos. Hobstown--the fantasy word where Ed is the all-American boy, representing all American boys--is a Disneyland of the mind, a production incorporating facts from his life, but where the imagination triumphs over brutality and ""the disease of history."" The personal and political smack head-on in this cleareyed search for lost American innocence--a luminous and truth-bearing quest.

Pub Date: March 13, 1988

ISBN: 0060977086

Page Count: -

Publisher: Beech Tree/Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1988