Woes Make the Man
Donald Antrim's surreal existential triptych
by Donald Antrim
$15.00 List Price
Donald Antrim once described the books he spent the 1990s writing as a "more or less related series of novels [that] concern themselves with aspects of American life—small town politics; fraternity and patriarchy; psychoanalysis and sex." The first novel, Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World (1993), is narrated by a former third-grade teacher in a small seaside Florida town who entertains Walter Mitty–ish fantasies of becoming mayor while his wife becomes involved with a local cult and the neighbors lay mines, moats, and tiger pits in their finely manicured lawns. (The mayoralty is open because the previous mayor has been recently drawn and quartered.) That book was followed by The Hundred Brothers (1997), in which the titular fraternity gathers at their ancestral estate to "stop being blue, put the past behind us, share a light supper, and locate, if we could bear to, the missing urn full of the old fucker's ashes." (No brother can help but be a son.) The Verificationist (2000) is set at a biannual supper for a group of psychologists who practice something called "Self / Other Friction Theory" in a town whose only distinguishing features are a Revolutionary War grounds, a Wicker Beaver Festival, and the vaguely ominous Institute where the psychologists themselves are employed.
Each book was widely well reviewed upon its publication, and Antrim—one of the New Yorker's "20 Under 40" in 1999—was somewhere between a rising and a fixed star in the literary sky. A decade and change later, this is still the case. Since 2000, Antrim has produced a memoir called The Afterlife (
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