Half a Look of Cain: A Fantastical Narrative

William Goyen, Author Triquarterly Books $27 (136p) ISBN 978-0-8101-5031-7
For fans of the fabulist tradition, Goyen was a standard-bearer of sorts from the publication of his seminal novel, The House of Breath , in 1950 to his death in 1983. Written during the '50s and '60s but never published, this short, experimental novel is framed by the narration of an unnamed man in the Pacific Northwest who replaces a murdered lighthouse keeper named Curran. The new ``Lighthouse Keeper'' finds ``Curran's Log''--an intricate account of Curran's days as a nurse during WW II, when he cared for a comatose patient who kept his own journal, which Curran copied into the Log. The patient's and Curran's lives share certain symbols and characters--a trapeze artist named Marvello; a murderous putative brother, Pietro; a circus (and hospital) filled with animals; and Shipwreck Kelley, a flagpole sitter in a small American town. For all its eccentricities and the grandeur of its precise language, however, this remarkable novel never quite pulls itself together. As the new Lighthouse Keeper says, ``There is an idea running through this record,'' as various characters variously muse on the various texts they read, and, indeed, Goyen seems to be reaching for some grand, Heisenbergian theory about the relationship between reader and writer. Unfortunately, the best he can cobble up is a rickety conclusion that leaves the question unresolved. A thrilling but ultimately disappointing novel. (June)
Reviewed on: 07/04/1994
Release date: 07/01/1994
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Paperback - 136 pages - 978-0-8101-5088-1
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