ANCIENT HISTORY: A Paraphase by Joseph McElroy


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Like the author's earlier Hind's Kidnap (1969) and A Smuggler's Bible (1966) this winds its way through some fragmented and highly abstract suggestions about The Way We Live Now, or possibly just How We Write. The Nabokovian set-up involves a polymorphic culture hero (writer, politico, sculptor, maverick social theorist) named Dom, or Don, who has committed suicide in that white space before the opening paragraph. And, of course, his parasite commentator, Cy, who steps in just past the nick of time to take over the great one's desk and compose a windy recollection. The two are scarcely acquainted, but then what has friendship to do with the kind of psychic linkage that Cy (an experimental novelist at heart) goes in for? Dom figures in his narrative as merely the most luminous of several logically unrelated points awaiting connection. They are Al, Cy's friend from childhood vacations; Bob, his friend from home in Brooklyn Heights; and Cy himself. Dom included, it's A, B, C, D, a sequence calculated for treatment in terms of vectors, loci, field theory, and similar abstractions, illuminating (?) the reasons why Cy wants to keep Al and Bob from meetlng, and their oddly coincident arrivals on the very day of Dom's exit. Whew! It's very vogueish stuff, with obsession and rationalization and the fear of exposure, etc. to round out such a fashionable set piece. McElroy handles it very well, though we could do with less reaching and more plain touching.

Pub Date: April 22nd, 1971
Publisher: Knopf