A Short Rhetoric for Leaving the Family

Peter Dimock, Author, Dimock Peter, Author Dalkey Archive Press $12.95 (128p) ISBN 978-1-56478-210-6
Drawing from Latin rhetoric and the Pentagon Papers, Dimock's dryly discursive first novel consists of a diatribe by a disgruntled ex-psychiatric patient to two of his young relatives, arming them against what he perceives as the evils of his family. Narrator Jarlath Lanham comes from a military family, and both his father and his brother were deeply implicated in America's aggressive policies in Vietnam. Jarlath is prevented by court decision from seeing his preteen relatives until they reach their legal majority; his instructions, to be delivered in 2001, are being written on the eve of the Gulf War as his father is dying. Obsessed by his method, he repeats incessantly the five divisions of classical rhetoric (invention, arrangement, style, memory, delivery) around which the book is structured. As background, he describes a collection of photographs and images ""to hold in memory"" the horrors of his family history: a picture of his father descending from the president's plane in Asia in 1965; a photo of a ""pleasured man"" (an antiwar protester) in the act of self-immolation; the image of himself assaulting his father across his desk. Dimock, a senior editor at Random House, writes powerfully, with suppressed anger. Yet, regrettably, Jarlath's voice is humorless and lacks the quality of grim animation that might imbue it with energy; his monotonous repetitions verge on threats and only serve to arm the reader against him. Although Dimock has succeeded in giving us a thoroughly untrustworthy narrator, this is a Pyrrhic victory; without us on his side, Jarlath's impassioned indictment of U.S. military policy is so far from the rational discourse it seeks to emulate that it is annoying rather than moving (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/02/1998
Release date: 11/01/1998
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!