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Half a Look of Cain; A Fantastical Narrative

Half a Look of Cain; A Fantastical Narrative

by William Goyen

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Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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)
Library Journal
Written in the 1950s, this posthumously published short novel by the author of the estimable The House of Breath is a poorly conceived, tortuously literary fabula. Curran, a lighthouse keeper on the coast of Washington, is found dead, perhaps murdered. The new keeper begins to read Curran's strange, diarylike log, which tells of his stint as an orthopedic therapist in England during the war and of his comatose patient, Chris. Curran reads-and then copies and "collaborates" on Chris's diary, which describes his life as Marvello, a promiscuous flying tapeze artist whose "body's hungers were insatiable," who takes on hundreds of lovers in search of one "who would admit and face the Cain in me." His mystical quest for his "two half-faces" will, at its best, remind some of Hermann Hesse. But at its worst, the prose of this odd, elegiac work drones on pointlessly. A curiosity that will warrant space in a few large collections of modern fiction.-Ron Antonucci, Hudson Lib. & Historical Soc., Ohio
An early Goyen novel--ca.1960--now published for the first time. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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Northwestern University Press
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5.63(w) x 8.88(h) x 0.40(d)

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