M31: A Family Romance by Stephen Wright

M31: A Family Romance

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In a dense, bizarre and disturbing second novel, Wright (Meditations in Green, 1983 winner of the Maxwell Perkins Prize) chronicles the inward deterioration of a family--part Manson gang, part backwoods Bundren clan from As I Lay Dying--whose belief that they issue from another galaxy unites them--that is, until the more-or-less normal stresses of contemporary family life erupt in violence and drive them wholly mad. As in As I Lay Dying, the novel's characters are wildly disordered misfits: Dot and Dash, a husband-and-wife team of traveling UFO gurus, have raised their four children to believe that ancestors on galaxy M31 will shortly descend in a spacecraft to reclaim them all, and so, as the parents travel to UFO conferences and Midwestern local TV stations to spread the alien word, the children stay at home in a dark, abandoned rural church, keeping their eyes fixed on a home made radar screen pointed to the sky. Dallas, the eldest son, also guzzles beer and watches his sister Trinity--his father's favorite lover--with violent lust; Trinity helps to nurse her father's (other) anorexic lover's emaciated baby on Weight Off, which the anorexic guzzles as greedily as Dallas guzzles beer; Edsel, the younger son, soaks up rays from the TV; and all encourage little Zoe, evidently autistic, in her special, frenzied, nonverbal communication with the star-beached Occupants from M31, who every once in a while give the family ""signs."" Then two UFO groupies arrive, just as Dot and Dash come home, and accelerated incest, rape, insemination and murder drive the family from their corn-fed home onto the open road, where the corpse of family life begins to rot in earnest--and is resurrected in the form of a hallucination of alien recapture by Dash (who hurls himself off a roof to meet the Occupants) and the birth of Dash's final child by the UFO groupie who survived the family visit. The novel appears to be a dark satire--setting a wild distortion of the myths that sustain family life into relief against domestic poverty, incestuous longings, alcoholism, violence and paranoia. A success--though difficult of access and grim.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1988
ISBN: 0375712941
Publisher: Harmony/Crown