GOING NATIVE reviewed by Jeffrey Herrmann
Apr 4, 2007, 04:40
GOING NATIVE by Stephen Wright, Dell Publishing 1994
Wow, a concept for a book that not only looks good on paper but also reads well. The story of a conservative married man who shucks his conjugal responsibilities has been told many a time but Stephen Wright's version stands them all on their heads. The first chapter is a horrifyingly accurate description of a successful and complacent couple who live in a typical suburb, Wakefield Estates. Rho and Wylie leave vicarious living to the characters that populate tabloid TV, cheap paperbacks and Wylie's subscriptions to Easyriders and On Our Backs. Then, one night, Wylie decides not to come home and the real story begins.
Each chapter introduces a new scenario involving a type of white trash that litters off-ramps near small town exits. The list of characters keeps growing and just when it seems like any plot capable of tying them all together is going to be far-fetched, it becomes apparent that Wright is telling the story backwards, or at least sideways. Each chapter is an independent event until the last few pages, when Wylie appears and affects things drastically. We end up reading six short stories, which turned cumulatively inside out, reveal a larger story that evolves over the course of the book.Â
The blurb on the cover of Going Native declares it to be a 1990's version of Kerouac's On The Road. Actually it's more like a 1990's version of Conrad's Heart Of Darkness.
These events take place in an America that becomes increasingly primitive as Wylie gets further and further away from his original state of comfort. His primal impulses grow stronger as we peer into some of the darker crevasses of the human condition.Â
The last chapter ties the story up on a third level and the reader is left wondering how much wider the scope would go if the story continued. Books as cleverly and intelligently structured as Going Native remain gems in a world that will soon be relying primarily on interactive CD-ROM fiction to provide new techniques of storytelling.
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