cover image The Disintegrations

The Disintegrations

Alistair McCartney. Univ. of Wisconsin, $26.95 (232p) ISBN 978-0-299-31470-5

Death, a force that McCartney (The End of the World Book) labels “the great disintegrator, the gnarly unmaker,” is examined in this cerebral autobiographical novel. An Australian professor in Los Angeles, McCartney writes of the obsessive visits to a cemetery he makes in hopes that proximity to death will help him understand “that subject whose contemplation separates us from all the other clawed and declawed animals.” He looks to the deaths of those whose lives intersected with his own for clues. These case studies range widely, from a nephew killed a week after his birth by “blue baby syndrome” to four women who were “abducted, raped, tortured, and murdered” by his childhood neighbors in Perth. With every example, death mutates in McCartney’s telling from a subject whose study gives him “purpose, a sense of direction” to a source of real terror. In addition to charting McCartney’s growing fear of the topic that fascinates him, the novel offers plenty of provocative images, as when he notes that a “cemetery is a space made of holes” or remembers that his grandfather insisted his “watch be wound by the mortician right before the coffin lid was closed.” McCartney’s enquiry offers few definitive answers, but the change it forces in him is palpable. “Let me speak candidly,” he concludes in his measured, disquieting tone. “I would welcome the opportunity to experiment with immortality.” (Aug.)