THE COUNTRY by David Plante


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Notwithstanding a National Book Award nomination, Plante's The Family (1978) was an underrated and grossly neglected masterwork. So it will be ironic if this short, often affecting but less fully satisfying sequel wins the wide acclaim which The Family deserved. Here again, then, are bitter ""Père"" and unstable ""Mère,"" working-class Providence, R.I., parents of seven sons--two of whom have stayed near over the years . . . while the others, like narrator Daniel, have more or less escaped the claustrophobic strangulation of The Family. But now the parents are nearly 80, failing, and next-to-youngest Daniel finds himself compelled to visit more often. Twice he comes to help his brothers with the caretaking of the old people: he cuts his father's toenails, urges him to work at his carpentry, drives him to their ill-fated country place, listens to his despair, weeps with him; Mère, whose mental illness was one of The Family's cornerstones, is contorted with silences, false smiles, seemingly wilful shifts in and out of senility. ""I want to write about being with my father,"" says Daniel with cruel honesty, ""but I don't want to be with him. . . ."" And then, after a very brief flashback to the period of The Family, Daniel visits once again. But this time it's for Père's wake and funeral--during which Mère, seemingly freed, shows a new loquacious self, pouring out a terrible mixture of nonsense and insight: ""I went to this country where everyone walks backwards, I swear, I swear to you, they never go forward, only backwards. . . ."" This isolation, this awareness of Mère and Père living in their own lonely country, is again the most particular, gripping element in Plante's quietly sorrowful treatment of his family; after bathing Mère (an almost unbearable sequence), he says, ""I saw in my mother a little warped body of suffering which seemed to have nothing, nothing to do with the outside world."" And, through almost all of this, Plante's narration is starkly, yet gently, pared-to-the-bone. So, though the subject of aged parents may be dealt with far more expansively in William Wharton's Dad, Plante's selective vision has its own nudging impact. A fine-tuned and powerful addendum.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0807083798
Publisher: Atheneum