I AM ZO HANDKE by Eric Larsen


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Larsen (An American Memory, winner of the Heartland Prize, 1988) now takes up that book's main character's wife--who chants a kind of epistemological plainsong from the notes of her very pained life. Zoë Handke, ""born into my mother's madness"" (a pretty, delicate woman, Zoë's mother is made forbidding by constant lying, mood swings, a hunger for death), not surprisingly must construct her life according to how false or true things seem. Does she know what she knows? Has she seen what she's seen? Heard what she's heard? (The book justly could have had a question mark hooked to its very title.) Suspended over a psychological floor that simply isn't there, Zoë webs herself in with discrete filaments of memory. Sometimes the webs grow so dense and insistent that she succumbs to what psychiatrists like to call conversion hysterias--temporary blindness, deafness--and other times things clarify for her wondrously: there are interesting ideas here about geographical places serving as ""holes in time,"" about athletics as a rite of recapitulation, about college buildings as pods of absence. Larsen styles all this seesawingly: sometimes the prose is determinedly equable, sometimes turbulently supercharged (""...a final effort of inestimable courage and despair...to draw me with her one last and unmerciful and pitiable time into a poisoned and time-stopped sea""); chastely, he'll simply list or outline Zoë's memories but then swell a few of the same ones into epiphanic climaxes. Austere and insistently repetitive, a book that despite its midwestern locales more comfortably aligns with those of recent European gray-palette essentialists like, say, Thomas Bernhard or Michel Tournier.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1992
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Algonquin