AFTER GREGORY by Austin Wright


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Sometimes indecipherable, often intriguing, this literary and existential mystery within-a-novel may remind readers of the fiction of Paul Auster, Don DeLillo, and other authors who chart the modern American search for identity. Wright's (Tony and Susan, 1993, etc.) book opens with a man writing about his life. The man reveals that he was formerly known as Peter Gregory, a 35-year-old high school English teacher with an ex-wife and kids, who tried unsuccessfully to drown himself in the Ohio River. Fleeing a past that may have involved the murder of his neighbor with a hammer, he hitches rides east, assuming and discarding aliases along the way: Murray Bree, the hitchhiker, is traded for Stephen White, the typewriter-shop employee, and so on. When an eccentric billionaire summons him to his New York office and gives him a grant he can't refuse -- $30 million to become yet another new person and cut all ties to the past -- he becomes the miraculously fortunate Stephen Trace. Unfortunately for Trace, the detritus of Peter Gregory's life keeps resur facing. When his benefactor dies in a plane crash and the company's successors come after Trace for his assets, he is forced to flee once again, this time back into the past for a dramatic reconciliation. Wright skillfully conveys how we choose to elude our pasts rather than face them, molding ourselves into different people for separate occasions. While at first we grumble over seemingly meaningless names, the literary games the author plays, and the rules he breaks, the story gains clarity and absorbs us after we start worrying about what the hero is going to do with his cash. Not a mystery in the conventional sense but certainly mysterious, Wright's novel challengingly suggests that we are all con artists in flight from ourselves. An intellectual wordsmith's whodunit.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0000219819
Page count: 305pp
Publisher: Baskerville