In Lithuanian Wood

Wendell Mayo, Author
Wendell Mayo, Author White Pine Press (NY) $14 (208p) ISBN 978-1-877727-87-0
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 09/01/1998
Mayo's first novel (after his debut collection of stories, Centaur of the North) investigates the stormy climate of post-Communist Lithuania in the early 1990s through the orbit of an American poetry teacher stationed in Vilnius. Peopled by myriad characters and marked by disparate genres, voices and narrative techniques (including fable, parable and literary allusions to Dante, Hawthorne, Ovid, Shakespeare), the novel assumes a frenetic tone that ultimately compromises its coherence. Carried in large part by the teacher Paul Rood, the narrative debunks the theory that liberation from communism brings with it prosperity and emotional stability. Instead, confusion, mistrust and contempt for the West characterize Rood's students and acquaintances; each one experiences a particular kind of regional anxiety that seems to corrupt everyone it touches. Danguole, an administrator at the house where the American teachers stay, rages against their ""Western"" habits (including regular bathing); Alma, Rood's pupil, engages herself to a nearly comatose ex-army officer after having known him for only a few days; Ana, a Ph.D. candidate, claims that her mother was a witch; and an American Fulbright scholar contracts an eye disease before cloistering himself in a tiny room to tend to a wounded dog who lives on his roof. These incidents are bizarre and numerous and often complicated by dense prose that strains to replicate the very complexities of human experience it describes. The result is a novel that suffers from an organizational disarray akin to the spiritual unease that afflicts its characters. (Jan.)
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