to write a story where somebody gets his brother back.
grief over the loss of his own brother prompted Gob's Grief
the first published novel from the accomplished medical-student-cum-short-story-writer.
Given a mission of such profound personal meaning, its hard
not to produce a work of at least passable eloquence. But Mr. Adrian,
apparently a chronic overachiever, settles more than his share of
disputes on the state of literature in America. Not quite a masterpiece
but far more than a reckless attempt at Cold Mountain
lachrymosity, Gobs Grief
is both an inviting treatise
on the nature of mourning and a sweeping look a nation obsessed
As an introduction,
let it be said that Gobs Grief
is set in the past but
is not an historical novel, that its characters include Walt Whitman
and Victoria Woodhull but it is not biographical fiction, that its
protagonist builds a fantastic machine to bring the dead back to
life but it is not a fantasy. Mr. Adrians vocabulary is quite
competent; his toolbox well rounded. But this is not a literary
novel, no, no more than Agatha Christie wrote quaint mysteries.
Think of Gobs Grief
as a handbook for mourning, a door
opened into a room where impossible dreams are allowed their head,
and you shall begin to understand the power behind Mr. Adrians
Tomo and Gob are
twin sons of Victoria Woodhull, the famous real-life feminist who
campaigned for womens rights long before the first Steinem-head
burned a bra. Understandably, the boys upbringing is a muddle
of Free Love and idyllic images of a caramelized afterlife called
the Summerland. Theirs is a world in which the Urfeist, a horrible
creature who bites off childrens fingers, may or may not live
around the bend. But it is also a place whose reality is dire, where
eleven-year-olds run off the war. Gob, scared at the prospect of
his own mortality, is fortuitously injured before they make it to
the train that will transport them to a Union Army camp. Tomo continues
and, predictably, expires at Chickamauga.
Mr. Adrian has
crafted an immaculate glimpse of madness born from the over-indulgence
of ones passions. We are told that Gobs missing finger
is a congenital deformity but are shown a trip to the Urfeists
lair in which Gob sacrifices his finger for the knowledge of how
to bring his brother back to life.
I want something,
said Gob. Ill pay for it. I want my brother back.
Hes dead but I want to bring him here again, into the
world. Its got to be so hes a living boy.
He kept babbling because the Urfeist said nothing. He only moved
one long finger slowly towards Gobs face. Gob did not
try to back away, but did not think he could have, had he tried.
The Urfeist put his finger gently under Gobs lips.
he said. He left his finger there for a long moment. Gob was
dashed with horror, as if someone had filled a bucket with pure
liquid horror and dumped it over his head.
Likewise, we are told of Gobs love for Maci
Trufant but shown a homosexual gesture toward Walt Whitman. We
are told of the horror of war but shown its aftermaththe
blood, the tired surgeons riddled with doubt. Mr. Adrians
web of paradoxes is cunning. He challenges the mind saturated
with belief in the concrete and socially acceptable by talking
of considered reality in passing and elaborately reporting on
the impossible. In the end, we are shown a mirror of ourselves,
forced to question our memories and self-contrived reality.
Though Gob is
the books protagonist, it is Will Fie, a lesser presence
but a stronger character, who is the backbone of Gobs
Grief . Another veteran of the Civil War, Fie is forced to
serve as a photographers apprentice and thereby to witness
firsthand the disgraces men serve one another. After the war,
he builds a house of daguerreotypes of dead soldiersliterally,
a house of glasson the outside of which people live their
lives and whose interior is thrown with the shadows of the deceased.
It is a perfect representation of life as we assume it to be,
and nowhere is Mr. Adrians skill more apparent.
This house of
the dead becomes an integral part of the adult Gobs contraption.
But the most important piece is Walt Whitman, the great credulous
man who is somehow less than enamored of Gobs plan.
Theres a place for you in it, Gob tells Walt
of the machine. I need you to go in it, and then bring them
back, all the six hundred thousand
All the dead of the
war, all the dead of all the wars. All the dead of the past. Well
lick death tonight, Walt, if youll help us. Whitman
leaves in something of a rush, only to return moments later, to
sit in the grand machine and scream and scream while the dead
flock to return.
precise plotting is augmented by a decidedly perfect ending. Suffice
to say, undeath is remarkably like life. Gobs Grief
, the product of a tragedy, ends in a contrarian affirmation of
life as we know it.
Grief is filled with the voices of spirits, living and dead,
who are wisps of ideas and things once read in old texts and,
undoubtably, a very real human pain. The work is a trifle long,
but Mr. Adrians mastery of the subject mitigates predictable
flaws in execution. He adopts a tone reminiscent of post-war literatureChamberlains
matter-of-fact flourishes, even, at times, Whitmans grandiose
scope. There is nothing forced here, though it occasionally seems
the author has restrained himself from going as far as is possible.
Chris Adrian, the current leader of the next generation of writers,
forgetsor has yet to fully absorbthat a novel is but
a distanced cousin of a short story; in accordance, the pacing
is occasionally less than sterling.
But let that
not overshadow the fact that Mr. Adrian is both a practiced and
a talented storyteller. Gobs Grief is a remarkable
beginning for a young novelist destined to leave his mark on American
[Editor's Note: Adrian is quoted from the January, 2000
issue of Bold Type Magazine.]