ARC D'X by Steve Erickson

ARC D'X

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A bold and occasionally brilliant interpretation of American history--but marred by a too obvious cerebration that numbs, turning original ideas into mere conceits. Appropriating the rumored liaison between Thomas Jefferson and the slave Sally Hemings, Erickson (Tours of the Black Clock, 1989, etc.) makes that relationship not only a recurring event in the following centuries but uses it as a metaphor for a conflict between the heart and history. For Erickson, this relationship personifies Jefferson's inability to separate history--the need to further human freedom--from the ``pursuit of happiness''--the needs of his heart. This, the novel suggests, is the same conflict that has also shaped America's destiny. And beginning with Jefferson's childhood memory of a slave burned at the stake and ending as the millennium threatens cataclysmic disaster, this conflict is repeatedly reenacted and dissected. In settings that include revolutionary Paris; a sinister city-state ruled by the Primacy; and a millennial Berlin abandoned by most of its inhabitants, characters resembling the original lovers repeat their first encounter. There's a rape that becomes a lasting but flawed love reminding Jefferson of his dereliction of ideals, and Sally of her connivance in her continued enslavement. All encounters, whether in the Fleurs d'X, a bar in the red-light area of the Primacy, or in a deserted Berlin hotel are explorations of the intersection--the arc of x--between ``history's denial of the human heart,'' on the one hand, and, ``on the other, history's secret pursuit of the heart's expression.'' Which makes for relentless intellectualizing and even more constrained characters as America and the lovers never quite resolve their destructive contradictions, and the ``pursuit of happiness'' remains ``the most forbidden artifact of all.'' Much fine writing and many provocative ideas, but nothing connects--ever--even at the many proffered intersections. Clever but cold. (First serial to Esquire)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-74296-5
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1993




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