COURT OF MEMORY by James McConkey


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Part reprint, part sequel, this ""autobiographical fiction"" begins with a republication of Crossroads (1968) and goes on to update McConkey's life-story and preoccupations--always with attention to ""sacredness,"" to ""the displacement of self which a sudden insight into human mutuality provides,"" to the power of the past. (""We are what we were."") Thus, McConkey ranges over WW II experiences, early teaching jobs, his modulated and self-amused life as a gentleman farmer in upstate N.Y., and the shortfalls of character prompted by out deepest alienations. He repeatedly recapitulates certain basic personal touchstones. And he constructs trains of moments which round back on themselves, invariably ending on one or another note of self-effaced wisdom: ""I think that the magic of our talismans, the truths that perilously sustain us, the inviolability of our virtue are always a consequence of the power of our imagination. I also think this: Nostalgia is roused in us less by the memory of what once actually was than by the memory of what once was possible in out dreams."" Unfortunately, however, the path of each of these story/essays--personal memory exposing self-doubt, then wonder, then love, and finally touching knowledge--is so predictable that a certain merry-go-round quality quickly accumulates, with a moral each rime around instead of a gold ring. And only one section rises, superbly, above this essentially pious formula: when his brother dies accidentally, McConkey recognizes that he himself lives almost wholly in a world of books, his most deep feelings long fictionalized, thus out of reach, coming close to dangerous inauthenticity. With one brilliant exception, then: a gathering of literate, finely balanced musings which soon become more monotonous than illuminating.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Dutton