Thomas Jefferson's love for and enslavement of his mistress, Sally Hemings, forms the center of an exploration of the American spirit. By the author of Days Between Stations. 50,000 first printing. National ad/promo. Author tour.
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A bold and occasionally brilliant interpretation of American history--but marred by a too obvious cerebration that numbs, turning original ideas into mere conceits. Appropriating the rumored liaison between Thomas Jefferson and the slave Sally Hemings, Erickson (Tours of the Black Clock, 1989, etc.) makes that relationship not only a recurring event in the following centuries but uses it as a metaphor for a conflict between the heart and history. For Erickson, this relationship personifies Jefferson's inability to separate history--the need to further human freedom--from the ``pursuit of happiness''--the needs of his heart. This, the novel suggests, is the same conflict that has also shaped America's destiny. And beginning with Jefferson's childhood memory of a slave burned at the stake and ending as the millennium threatens cataclysmic disaster, this conflict is repeatedly reenacted and dissected. In settings that include revolutionary Paris; a sinister city-state ruled by the Primacy; and a millennial Berlin abandoned by most of its inhabitants, characters resembling the original lovers repeat their first encounter. There's a rape that becomes a lasting but flawed love reminding Jefferson of his dereliction of ideals, and Sally of her connivance in her continued enslavement. All encounters, whether in the Fleurs d'X, a bar in the red-light area of the Primacy, or in a deserted Berlin hotel are explorations of the intersection--the arc of x--between ``history's denial of the human heart,'' on the one hand, and, ``on the other, history's secret pursuit of the heart's expression.'' Which makes for relentless intellectualizing and even more constrained characters as America and the lovers never quite resolve their destructive contradictions, and the ``pursuit of happiness'' remains ``the most forbidden artifact of all.'' Much fine writing and many provocative ideas, but nothing connects--ever--even at the many proffered intersections. Clever but cold. (First serial to Esquire) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Publishers Weekly:
Erickson, who has attracted a strong following with his three novels (the most recent was Tours of the Black Clock ) and the memoir Leap Year , has now written his most provocative novel yet, an apocalyptic narrative in which he yokes his grim vision of America to the exalted vision of Thomas Jefferson. The story opens in Paris, where Jefferson is serving as the new country's ambassador to France. The protagonist, however, is not the master of Monticello but Sally Hemings, the slave and concubine he has brought with him. A beautiful young woman with "skin that was too white to be quite black and too black to be quite white," Sally accepts her submission to Thomas, even as she makes him promise to free their children; for him, their relationship embodies all that is paradoxical in the new nation, as "it was the nature of American freedom that he was only free to take pleasure in something he possessed." Their bastard child, so to speak, is America, and soon enough the novel leaps forward two centuries, at least, to a dystopian Los Angeles that represents America at its most wayward. There the spirits of Sally and Thomas are made manifest through any number of characters, as well as through a talismanic stone and cryptic references to "the pursuit of happiness." Dark, chaotic, ruled by religious zealots and policed by Chandleresque lone gunmen, Erickson's dystopia is rather too familiarly rendered; and too often his prose simply disorients the reader when he means to explore the nature of disorientation. But he has written an undeniably prodigious work--its disjunct sentences opening up new worlds of expectation, its grave and agonized obsessions standing out in stark contrast to the lucid principles Jefferson set down in the Declaration of Independence. First serial to Esquire; author tour.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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