Front Matter

      Front Cover

      Title Page

      Publisher Details



    1. Introduction

    2. Rotten with Perfection

    3. Fiction and the Unabomber

Front Matter

Front Cover


Utopia and Terror in Contemporary American Fiction

Judie Newman

Title Page

Utopia and Terror in Contemporary American Fiction

Judie Newman


Taylor & Francis Croup


Publisher Details

First published 2013

by Routledge

711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017

Simultaneously published in the UK

by Routledge

2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon 0X14 4RN

Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business

© 2013 Taylor & Francis

The right of Judie Newman to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.

Trademark Notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Newman, Judie.

Utopia and terror in contemporary American fiction / Judie Newman.

p. cm. — (Routledge transnational perspectives on American literature ; 21)

Includes bibliographical references and index.

1. Utopias in literature. 2. American fiction—21st century—

History and criticism. 3. Dystopias in literature. 4. Terror in literature. 5. Fantasy in literature. 6. Transnationalism in literature. I. Title.

PS374.U8.N49 2013



ISBN13: 978-0-415-89912-3 (hbk)

ISBN13: 978-0-203-55597-2 (ebk)

Typeset in Sabon by IBT Global.



1. Introduction

2. Rotten with Perfection: Kim Edwards, The Secrets of a Fire King

3. Fiction and the Unabomber: Susan Choi, A Person of Interest

4. Blowback: Andre Dubus III, House of Sand and Fog

5. Falling Woman: Andre Dubus III, The Garden of Last Days

6. Pictures from a Revolution: Dalia Sofer, The Septembers of Shiraz

7. Updike’s Many Worlds: Local and Global in Toward the End of Time

8. The Black Atlantic as Dystopia: Bernardine Evaristo’s Blonde Roots

9. Disaster Utopias: Chitra Divakaruni, One Amazing Thing






In writing what follows I have incurred many debts, too many indeed to name individually here. The responsibility for any errors is of course entirely mine. I am grateful especially to my colleagues in the School of American and Canadian Studies, University of Nottingham, and to the students in my “Fictions of America” course in the last three years. Among individuals who helped with specific queries, suggestions, or criticism, I take this opportunity to thank Shashikala Assella, Celeste-Marie Bernier, Gloria Cronin, Diletta De Cristoforo, Paul Grainge, Robert Hillenbrand, Graham Huggan, Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, Yvonne Jerrold, Matthew Jones, Richard King, Ruth Maxey, Maria Ryan, Jack Ruttie, Lyman Sargent, Liz Statham, and Graham Thompson. In the absence of almost any secondary criticism on most of the authors discussed, anonymous manuscript readers’ responses and audience comments were especially useful. I am grateful for invitations to speak at the British Association for American Studies Postgraduate Conference, 2008; Staff Research Seminar, University of Leeds, 2008; American Literature Association Conference, San Francisco, 2010; Jewish American and Holocaust Literature conference, Miami 2010; American Literature Association Symposium on Crime Fiction, Savannah, 2011; and American Literature Association Conference, San Francisco 2012. I should also like to thank the editors and publishers of the scholarly journals listed below for the opportunity to try out pilot versions of material which is developed in the book. “ ‘Rotten with perfection’: The Entelechial Fictions of Kim Edwards,” Comparative American Studies, 8, 1 (March 2010), 22-38 (Maney Publishing); “Blowback: Andre Dubus Ill’s House of Sand and Fog,” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, 51, 4 (2010), 378-393 (Taylor and Francis); “Updike’s Many Worlds: Local and Global in Toward the End of Time,” The John Updike Review, 1 (2011) 53-67 (The John Updike Society and the University of Cincinnati Press); “Pictures From an Exhibition: Dalia Sofer and the Jews of Iran,” Contemporary Women's Writing 2012; doi:10.1093/cww/vps001 (Oxford University Press); “The Black Atlantic as Dystopia. Bernadine Evaristo’s Blonde Roots,” Comparative Literature Studies (Special Issue Comparative Perspectives on the Black Atlantic, 49, 2 (2012) 281-295 (Pennsylvania State University Press).

Reprinted with permission. I gratefully acknowledge financial support from the University of Nottingham Research Committee and the Dean’s Fund, and the School of American Studies, for funding attendance at conferences and research time. A special debt is due to the staff of the Hallward Library, University of Nottingham, particularly the Inter Library loans staff, for invaluable assistance in tracking down materials. I have been very fortunate to work with Liz Levine as my editor. Thanks go once again with feeling to Alice Newman, Chris Revie, and James Revie for their encouragement and support.

1. Introduction

Amy Waldman’s 2009 short story, “Freedom”, engages directly with the central topic of the current study: the possibility of utopia in a post-terror world. The story opens as a group of political detainees, recognisably akin to the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay, disembark on a remote Pacific island. Formerly characterised as “so evil they had to be imprisoned on an island beyond the reach of American law”,[1] they have now been reclassified as no longer “the worst of the worst” (39) and cleared for release. The snag is that no country is willing to accept them, with the exception of a select few which promise to torture them. Even Albania baulks. It is a Public Relations disaster for the incumbent American president, one of whose officials jokes that

We need to start a new country—it’s the only way. (40)

And so they do, and its name is Freedom. The Solomon Islands, hit by a tsunami and desperate for US aid, hand over Fatutaka, an extinct volcano, one of the most remote and rocky islands in the archipelago, and it is transformed at enormous expense into the world’s only Muslim democracy. In go the same contractors who created Baghdad’s Green Zone and Kabul’s American Embassy, with tons of imported topsoil, sand and concrete, to provide it with trees, roads, a mosque, gym, post office, medical centre, and eighty-two nicely appointed bungalows for the new citizens. The resulting suburban subdivision of cul-de-sacs is reminiscent of California’s Inland Empire (40) but with additional sea view. Although the new national slogan is “As Good As America™” (40) Freedom is in some respects inimical to its parent state. There is a gated community for the security guards and government personnel. “Freedom was a friendly country, but at the outset it was thought prudent to treat it like an enemy one” (40).

Deliberately constructed to a blueprint, the new community dramatizes the peculiar tension between freedom and coercion in any utopia. Like Thomas More’s, the society is planned as a “product” utopia (hence the trademark on the slogan), based upon a principle (here freedom, though in other examples it might be Good or the Ideal Society) and as a result it is heavily regulated, and subject to strict social control.[2]

Waldman's story takes its inspiration from recent events which put the nature of American freedoms in the spotlight, in the story the detainees, eighty-two veterans of any number of “combatant status review tribunals” (39) including Yemenis. Uzbeks, North Africans and Uighurs, with some 500 years of captivity between them, arrive at the island no longer wearing Guantanamo-style orange jump suits ("those were so 2002" 39) but still In shackles and blindfolded by wraparound goggles. Combatant status review tribunals were held at Guantdnamo Bay (controversially defined by the US Department of Justice as outside US legal jurisdiction) to confirm the status of detainees as enemy combatants. The process was the product of the US doctrine of pre-emption, the idea that threats must be defused before they are actualised, and enemies defeated who have not yet emerged. The tribunals were not trials concerned with past acts, but related to future acts, and to whether the detainee was still a threat. Effectively therefore the war against terror itself relied upon projection into the future.[3] tn the case particularly of the Uighurs, a Chinese Muslim minority, many of those cleared for release remained none the less in detention. The United States feared that if they returned them to China they would be persecuted or tortured. Although American officials made overtures to more than twenty countries for asylum for the Uighurs, none would accept them. Ironically, the Uighurs, who have traditionally suffered religious persecution at the hands of Chinese Communists, had previously viewed America as a champion of liberty. As their lawyer argued in court, “there might not be a more pro-US Muslim group in the world."[4] Freedom for the Uighurs, however, amounted to continued detention in Guantanamo, an institution memorably described by Lord Goldsmith, a British government minister, as tarnishing America's reputation "as a beacon of freedom, liberty and Justice."[5]

Satire cuts in several directions in the story, targeting the very idea of utopia after terror, the American image of itself as founded on principles of freedom from religious and political persecution, and Imperialism more bi^Mly. In their small boats, the new settlers, a whole clan of exiled Magwitches without return tickets, recall the practice of exporting Europe's problems to its colonies: English convicts sent to Virginia or the Carolinas, or (once America became the land of the free) to Australia. There is no return from the island. Fatutaka. formerly a British colony and still recognising the English monarch as head of state, lias been riven by civil conflict since it gained its independence, and is a very typical casualty of empire. Richard Benson, whom the American Foreign Service assign to run the new country, recognises that his post is lowly; as an American diplomat he has "never heard of a country called Freedom" (39). But within the confines of the island he Is as all powerful as any colonial authority, “a viceroy— master of the antipodes, lord of this human Galapagos." (40). A benevolent despot. Benson sets out in paternalistic terms to make the island into a home for the detainees, though in the event its evolution holds as many surprises as Galapagos.

Like many of those who invest in the idea of freedom without addressing the reality of how freedom can be developed and lived through, Benson is well-meaning but fundamentally naive. When he rebukes one of the guards for shouting at the new arrivals the guard replies that shouting is what they expect.

They haven't shit in six years without someone telling them to and then watching them do it.... Free will's a muscle, dude. And theirs is as weak as your biceps. (39)

Indeed most of the men are so Institutionalised that they cannot take advantage of any of the opportunities offered by the island. The freed man turns out to be qualitatively different from the free man (40). The restaurant remains empty; the men are so used to being forced to cat alone that they prefer solitude. Any questions from Benson recall their interrogations and arc rebuffed. At roll call they refuse to answer to their names. As Abdullah237 explains, they insist on keeping their internment serial numbers as their true identities. The only request made is for plywood and steel mesh for home improvements; the men reconstruct the sleeping cages, seven feet by eight, to which they are accustomed. When Abdullah237 asks Benson if there is a word in English for a place “where everything was perfect, but you still felt miserable" (41), the unspoken answer is clearly utopia.

In this post-terror world narrative and utopia appear to be completely incompatible. The story also overtly questions the value of writing as reparative strategy. As far as the department which runs it is concerned, nobody cares “if Freedom was a happy place, as long as it looked like one" (41), but Benson continues to promote the pursuit of happiness. Assuming that telling their stories would be therapeutic, he tries every means to get the men to disgorge their experiences, from encounter groups to memoir-writing classes and a wiki-history, all to no avail. At the same time, however, behind the scenes, he intercepts the men's letters, in order to censor any suspect material. The men are only going to be allowed to tell the stories which Benson approves. Once censorship Is Introduced every word becomes suspect to him. "Where did literal speech end and metaphor begin?" (41). if Abdullah237 says he is bored, is it a code to signal a rescue? Does Salman765's longing for his wife's stuffed peppers conceal a nefarious—or even an erotic— meaning? And as for WahcedOCM's poem, it is quite impossible. Every phrase seems to contain the potential for double and triple meanings. “Language took on the complexity of wartime maneuvers" (41). There is apparently no place for writing in utopia. Language cannot be policed and confined, it eludes authority, and the upshot is that the Department rules that the letters cannot be sent at all. Instead Benson keeps both reading and writing under his control, scrapping the outgoing letters once read, but composing fictitious replies himself, in the guise of mothers, brothers, sons and wives, constructing an external world without suffering or problems, in which Salmnn765's mother makes a sudden recovery from her health problems and Jamal202's little brother gets a university place. "Benson eliminated all pain and suffering, all loss and cruelty, from the responses" (41). By benevolent subterfuge he creates a utopian world, though an external one. at some remove from 1 reedom: “rather than trying to regulate the human reaction to difficult events, he had rewritten the events" (41). Writing creates utopia but utopia and Freedom arc no longer synonymous.

When the men do decide to flex their free-will, the results are decidedly anti- utopian. Deafened by their loud music Benson introduces a system of laws, realising that “order was more easily enforced than happiness" (41). Surveillance follows and even cruel and inhuman punishment. The Bush administration had declared the detainees to be illegal combatants, unprotected by the Geneva Convention (and thus vulnerable to torture) and maintained that the President must be free to define what counts as torture.[6] On Freedom anyone who cont radicts the rules is forced to listen for six hours to Verdi at high volume. “No civilised country could ever call opera torture" (41). Faced with Benson's coercion, the detainees, formerly a motley group of different ages, professions and nationalities, unite and begin to be radicalised. Bingo is condemned as un-lslamic and beards begin to sprout. Freedom is recognised overtly as a fiction. Significantly the first suicide is “suicide by book" (41). The victim weights himself down with heavy volumes and drowns. Instead of writing, the men use silence and non-verbal techniques of resistance. When Benson teaches them how to play charades they respond enthusiastically, wordlessly reenacting the conditions of their captivity, miming forced feeding and anal probings, limping as if in shackles, hurling imaginary faecal cocktails and staging re-enacted tribunals, each with one panic-stricken desperate pleader and four stony-faced judges. Finally they reject the language of their rulers, beginning with the term Freedom itself. When they suggest a name change for the island, they offer critical variations on Utopia's original Greek meaning (no place): La makan (no place), labilad (no land), fttdoun (without), Al Way! (misery) and most significantly Al A'raf. As Edgar Allan Poe described the latter to his publisher, it is

a medium between heaven and hell where men suffer no punishment, Lxit yet do not attain that tranquil and even happiness which they suppose to be the characteristics of heavenly enjoyment.[7]

Although Benson extends his censorship to the Quran, locking away all copies, the hard-line Islamists come out with a majority on the ruling council and he is forced to exercise his veto. For Benson heaven has become something closely approaching hell.

On the island only the Uighurs have kept busy, carving intricately fashioned wooden furniture. Knowing how keen the government is to promote free markets. Benson proposes to export it. assuming that it will appeal to conscience consumerism, much as Western consumers will buy coffee harvested by pygmies or necklaces made by Romanian street kids. He is overruled in the name of security (40). Freedom is incompatible with the free market. Undeterred the Uighurs continue to make furniture which crops up all over the island, here an abandoned table for ten, there a row of bare bedframes, in groupings which silently evoke the absence of their families and satirise the claims of the island as "home". Faced with the defeat of all his projects for the pursuit of happiness. Benson decides the men must have their wives and children with them-and is promptly refused. Abdullah237 roundly declares that “He didn’t want his son breathing Freedom's air” (42). America, however, manipulates desire to its own ends and works out how to use the oppression of women to its advantage, advertising worldwide for mail order brides. In a sad reflection of the conditions of women in many parts of the world, there is no shortage of volunteers to marry total strangers and remain forever at a safe distance from their families and homelands. In a horrible parody of an Islamic paradise, new brides are shipped in for the men, and they form new family groups, replete with their defiantly named children, a plethora of Osamas. Jihads, Zawahiris and Qutbs. As the years pass, with divorces, fights, suicides and murders, "Freedom became as good as America after all” (42).

Freedom begins as a joke and ends in disillusion, but the story itself does not end on quite such a pessimistic note. Asa withering critique of American pretensions to freedom and democracy the story also offers a postcolonial parable, underlining the fact that freedom cannot be merely given but must be won. The idea of freedom does not die. At the close of the story Benson returns to witness the mass exodus of the detainees' children, six dozen teenagers in four huge boats, pushed off by their parents, and paddling furiously towards the horizon. Fairly obviously Waldman evokes Oscar Wilde’s dictum that

A map of the world that docs not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out and. seeing a better country, sets sail.[8]

As the ending indicates utopia is not a place but the spirit of hope itself. In the story when freedom becomes Freedom it dies; the concept does not survive institutionalisation. Freedom has to be kinetic, freedom from something or towards something, and is constituted in resistance. It is Benson's coercions that trigger the men's opposition: their freedom is forged in struggle. In the words of Bill Ashcroft.

This then is the dynamic function of I he utopian impulse. Not to construct a place, but to enact the utopian in the engagement with power?[9]

How docs fiction enact this engagement? Waldman's story highlights, in Benson's reaction to the ambiguities of language, the slipperiness of its own method. In the story every time the word "freedom” is used, the reader has to hold two referents in place simultaneously, a concept and an antithetical realisation, generating most of the ironies as a result, and problematising the relationship between literature and utopia. In Ernst Bloch's argument all literature is inherently utopian because its whole point is to imagine a different world.[10] if, as Frederic Jameson argues in The Political Unconscious, narratives are socio-symbolic acts, attempts to achieve symbolic resolution of real social or political contradictions, then

It is by narrative, by the stories that we tell, that we have a world, and it is by utopian thinking, utopian forms, utopian narrative that we may have a conception of a radically changeable world.[11]

On the other hand actual utopias have been distinctly thin on the ground in America in the later twentieth century. With the exception of a clutch of feminist works (more properly categorised as dystopias) utopian writing has largely been relegated to the science fiction side-lines in most recent accounts of the form.[12] As for the concept itself, it has had a distinctly bad press. In the second half of the twentieth century utopia was usually understood, in pejorative terms, as a contributor to totalitarianism, and its demise welcomed as a move away from abstract thinking which ignores individuality and difference. E.H. Carr criticised utopian thought as playing an adverse role between 1919 and 1939 in the policies of England and France, for example, contributing to the Second World War.[13] The miseries of Communism, the disaster of Hitler's Germany, are easily used as a stick to beat political idealists. 1 or many thinkers (though not all) Popper's consideration of utopia in The Open Society marked a definitive moment in the demolition of utopia.[14] In the memorable summation of Russell Jacoby. “Someone who believes in utopias is widely considered to be out to lunch or out to kill."[15]

Of late, however, utopia has begun to get a better press. The re evaluation of the social worth of utopia would include Rorty's 1999 case for a revival of utopian energies, describing utopia as a “most distinctive and praiseworthy human capacity".[16] Writing much earlier. Ernst Bloch, who remains a touchstone for discussions of utopia, had already expanded the concept from the narrower image of a description of an alternative society designed to evoke or facilitate a better way of life, to such phenomena as daydreams, religious visions, myths of a golden age, circuses, fairy tales, glossy magazines, travel literature, architectural utopias and social movements. For Bloch, the capacity for hope is a prime source of human creativity, dynamism and progress, and is part of our capacity for imagination. Theories of utopia have expanded exponentially beyond the literary genre to embrace critical utopias and dystopias (Tom Moylan), the desire for utopia (Ruth I.evitas) and “social dreaming” (Lyman Tower Sargent).[17] Immanuel Wallerstein's appeal for a project of “utopistics", Russell Jacoby's call for a return to the role of public intellectuals, John Rawls' discussion of the possibility of realistic utopia, in a world society of liberal and decent people, and Bourdieu's call for reasoned utopianism as opposed to “bankers' fatalism" all suggest that the earlier identification of utopia with totalitarian projects has been largely superseded.[18] Although utopia remains a fundamentally contested term, even the noisy debates over the relation between ideology and utopia, usually focussed on the work of Karl Mannheim and Paul Ricoeur, have quieted, as witness, Lyman Tower Sargent's argument that despite the ways in which scholarship has played down the role of utopia and emphasised that of ideology, utopia is at least as-or even more- important in the work of both thinkers.[19]

Globalisation has also brought utopia back into the spotlight. For Patrick Hayden and Clumsy el-Ojeili, the question of how human communities can be created anew animates the engagement with contemporary globalization.[20] Utopia and globalisation are in themselves close companions. The emergence of utopia as a literary form in the sixteenth century coincided uncannily with the modern Western project of global exploration. More's Utopia is presented through a talc of world exploration, via its travellernarrator. Ralph HyChloday.

Utopia thus connotes the desire to transgress borders and to encounter other lands and peoples, to connect together otherwise disparate places and identities across the globe. In this way Utopia and globalization are born together.[21]

Globalisation has habitually been cast in utopian (or dystopian) terms. Commentators on the utopian side will tend to see globalisation as producing a world without borders, enjoying truly free trade, a progressive equalisation of peoples beyond the nation state, the free flow of Information and the possibility of negotiated peace and global governance. As dystopia, globalisation is seen as polarising wealth, handing over political control to multinational corporations, eroding indigenous cultures and fostering a new imperialism based on Americanisation.[22] As Hayden and el-Ojeili argue, "happy globalization”, as symbolised by the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the optimism of Friedman and Fukuyama, appeared to meet its end in Seattle in dystopian visions, haunted by terror, became more common.[23]

In its modern form therefore the utopian impulse resonates with contemporary debates about local-global penetration, the meanings of boundaries and the role of cosmopolitanism as a unifying social force.[24]'* But—and it is a big but—the quest for utopia has its darker underside, in the figure of the global terrorist, equally convinced of a social or religious mission. John Gray, for one, has argued that utopian politics have moved from the extremes to mainstream politics, indeed that utopianism now occupies the political centre in the examples of George W. Bush and Tony Blair.[25]’’ Faith-based violence may be based on very different apocalyptic faiths, also shaded with utopian projections, in Gray's examples of American fundamentalism and radical Islam. With images of America as new world, paradise or utopia replaced by a terror drcam. it appears that the terrorist may have gained a monopoly on the idea of paradise. The relationship between utopianism and fundamentalism is complex, including both content (visions of the good life) and structural paradigm (both stem from discontent with ihe now, and mount a challenge to the contemporary world). Many Islamic groups dream of establishing an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law; Osama Bin Laden's videotapes and speeches offer both a critical take on Western values and a vision of an Islamic state to come. Lucy Sargisson has argued that the particular kind of utopianism which drives religious fundamentalism is perfectionist, an authoritarian utopianism based on the notion of one truth, "the truth”.[26] Perhaps in response, commentators have located a turn away from the quest for perfection towards a more modest utopianism, and an evolution from product to process.[27] The utopian wish has become more prominent than the utopian genre.

Jo return to “Freedom" briefly, it is important to note that America finally succeeds in pacifying the islanders (if not their children) by the manipulation of desire. The mail order brides come wafting down from the sky, soft weapons in America's cause. The questionnaire which the men have to complete to obtain a wife asks them to list the qualities they seek, as well as "Any absolute No's? (Facial Hair, Body Mass Index over 25, Previous Marriages)" (42). When the women's dossiers arrive they do not match up to specifications (facial hair abounds though nobody has requested it) but the men are wholly enthusiastic, drawing lots for first choice of wife, and then bargaining and exchanging with each other. As the wife swapping wages, the community centre hums with the happy activity which Benson had hoped to create with bingo (42). Women are a commodity used (here, essentially, trafficked) to promote an American vision of utopia and to exploit the men's emotions. But although “Freedom" is a sharp little satire, the men's feelings remain almost as opaque to the reader as they are to Benson, whose terse classified emails back to his bosses reflect his lack of insight. The detainees don't want to inflict Freedom on anyone they love. But for Benson their opposition is strategically political rather than heartfelt: “The men have rejected family reunification. Appears to be a case of manipulative self-deprivation" (42). Narrated in omniscient third-person the story offers the reader an overview of events not unakin to Benson's own surveillance, with the men observed only from the outside, their feelings a closed book. It is a point which raises an additional concern in the present study, centring upon the commodification of emotion, a phenomenon of a globalised world in which feelings are managed, homogenised across cultures, exaggerated, or expunged according to a dominant model. Can fiction avoid playing to preprogrammed emotions? Is it utopian to assume that feelings can be evoked in the reader as a method of enacting the engagement with power? What is the role of emotion in utopian art? Among other topics, the current study investigates ways in which fictional techniques can resist the commodification of affect, and maintain a reasoned but imaginative vision of possibilities for human community. That term "affect” cries out for qualification.[28] Literary critics (wary of appearing undcrtheoriscd or old-fashioncdly sentimental) have enthusiastically adopted the term "affect" to enable them to reimport a concern with emotion into their practice. But it Is arguable that the term itself represents a means of managing emotion in the service of an institutional discourse. Nigel thrift has argued that In some ways the discovery of new ways of practicing affect is also the discovery of a whole new means of manipulation by the powerful.[29]

Richard Gray's analysis of 9/11 fiction, for example, categorises all the novels which fall back upon the domestic, the sentimental, or the melodramatic as inadequate responses to the attacks, without considering why such emotional responses are Illegitimate. In Gray's analysis the world of women and children does not seem to be envisaged as a positive place for literary responses.[30] It is not, however, utopian to consider that readers are entitled to their own emotions, and that one of the most important functions of literary fiction is to exercise our feelings in ways that prevent their homogenisation by a dominant culture. Scandalously, however, as we shall see in the example of the Unabomber, it is also possible for the terrorist to act in defence of spontaneous, unsocialised emotion, albeit with devastating emotional consequences in his turn.

Emotions are easily commodified. Whereas Frederic Jameson complained of a waning of affect in the postmodern world of simulacra."[31] other commentators have perceived an cmotionalisation of contemporary life, the growth of a therapeutic culture and the increasing dominance of emotional labour in the economy. Liz Bondi has drawn attention to a wide range of social and cultural trends in which emotions have moved towards the centre of public life, commercial activity and consumption.[32] Arlie Russell Hochschild's The Managed Heart, with its analysis of the service sector in which workers are increasingly expected to produce the correct emotional experiences for customers (from comfortable flights, to pleasant dining and cheerful offices), highlighted the risks to workers' authentic identities, in the dominance of the personality adopted during the working shift in the off-duty life.”[33] In some ways, of course, this management of emotion is not a new phenomenon. Nigel Thrift offers the example of the military management of affect by drilling, and in the development of small bands of brothers-in-arms, prepared to die for each other, bound together by close social bonds and learned behaviour which conquers fear and channels aggression, in this way an intense sociality acts as a structured way of producing death.[34] As we shall see (Chapter 5, below) Andri Dubus til's The Garden ofLast Days pits a 9/11 hijacker (one of a band of brothers, his affect closely tailored to his mission) against a Florida lap dancer (creating an experience of emotional closeness for the client). Affect is manipulated here for divergent ends. political and economic, but both characters offer examples of a social tendency towards greater engineering of emotion (and in both eases with a utopian element).

It is important to emphasise that the emotion being produced and controlled may be located at either end of the happiness-misery continuum. Two models of feeling- management in American society are particularly germane to the discussion of utopia: the relentless creed of positivity ("Have a Nice Day!") and the compulsory grief-fest. Compulsory positivity, despite the upbeat nature of the performance, is the enemy of utopian thought and action, masking social problems and returning them to the plane of ineffectual individualism. In Smile or Die. Barbara Ehrenreich has decried the way in which America has opted to feel good rather than to act well. Ehrenreich lambasts the dominance of positive thinking In the public sector and the corporate world, as tending to encourage an individualised, self-centred approach to wider social failings. Diagnosed with breast cancer Ehrenreich was horrified by the ways in which “positivity" was compulsory in the upbeat pink-ribbon culture of cancer "survivors" (never “victims") and the ways in which cancer was reconfigured as a “gift". Positive thinking was promoted as a means of helping to cure the disease, as if cancer were a sign of a personal failure to think or feel in the right way. As a result, the medical and social discourse denied women the right to express fear or anger, encouraging patients to deny reality, blame themselves and submit cheerfully to the presentation of breast cancer teddy bears (a fate worse than death in Ehrenreich's book). Although the example of demon positivity in the case of breast cancer is sharpened by gendered norms which tend to proscribe expressions of female anger (prostate cancer does not usually trigger teddy bears), the management of emotion and the encouragement of a cloyingly upbeat attitude is a phenomenon which extends right across American society. Historically America has been pathologically life-affirming, from Mary Baker Eddy to Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale, but in the contemporary period positivity has become a central plank in American ideology. Ehrenreich examines the business of positive "affect", the mood we display to others, through smiles, greetings and professions of confidence and optimism; the encouragement of positive thinking In evangelical religion (the prosperity gospel movement) and the post-rational corporate world (coaches and motivational speakers); the underlying belief that good things come to those who arc optimistic enough to expect them (whether divine blessings or offers of jobs); television shows (Larry King Live and the Oprah Winfrey Show) and even the academic discipline of "positive psychology". Asa result she argues that America has no mechanism for imagining the worst and Is too busy accentuating t he positive to tackle (or even recognise) substantial problems. Ehrenreich finds weighty support in the work of sociologist Karen Cerulo who has analysed ways in which the American optimism bias undermined preparedness and invited disaster in relation to Hurricane Katrina, the subprime crisis and the 9/11 attacks. Despite a previous attack on the World Trade Centre in 1993, warnings about another attack, a clear recognition that US airport security was inadequate, and reports from flight schools of pupils who wanted to learn how to fly a plane but were not interested in being able to land one, the American tendency to underplay the negative meant that, in Cerulo's title, they Hewr Saw it Coming.[35] Neither Dr Pangloss nor Cassandra, Ehrenreich, a long term social activist, remains committed to the belief in the ability to create a better world but cautions that we cannot wish ourselves into utopia, "and the first step is to recover from the mass delusion that is positive thinking."’[36]

At the other end of the spectrum, trauma is also a highly marketable commodity. Jess Walter's The Zero (2007) mounts a ferocious satire on the compensation culture and the politics and economics of mourning. April, whose husband and sister have died In the 9/11 attacks, applies for f ederal Victims' compensation and watches a PowerPoint presentation with her lawyer. Screen 2 covers "Pain and Mental Anguish: a quantifying formula".’[37] Although “Everyone starts with a base of two- fifty" which is what the guidelines have determined each life is worth "at a base level of grieving" (169), it is possible to add extra claims for special circumstances. In April's case, however, given that she had separated from her husband Derek, the lawyer advises her to settle for S250.000. He himself is looking forward to a percentage of the award as his fee, which will include compensation for his own trauma in handling cases of compensation for trauma. He will also be compensated for “Compassion Fatigue" (17-1), a condition which he exhibits all too clearly. Concerned that there might be a mistress with a potential claim, he is relieved to learn that the mistress also perished in the attacks. Later when April meets her brother Gus, their encounter is filmed for a reality TV show whose producer advises her to

Just do exactly what a normal person would normally do ... when seeing your last living sibling for the first time since your sister ... died such a horrible, unbearable death. This is reality: what we want is real emotions. (207)

Real emotion is not so easily accessed, however. The meeting is carefully choreographed and stage-managed by the camera crew and bears no relation to April's actual feelings which are mixed, chaotic and confused. It was April's sister, March, who was Derek’s mistress, and when ApriI phoned to upbraid her she rushed to Derek's office high up in one of the towers and died as a result (249).

Society however has clear ideas about the appropriate performance of emotion. Mourning has become so compulsory and pervasive that the news media arc able to create an experience of vicarious grief. Jess Walter had spent time at Ground Zero while working as a ghost-writer on the memoirs of the New York Police Commissioner, and details from his experience feature in the novel: television news trucks going “grief-fishing", a TV crew wearing windbreakers reading “1 rom the Ashes" and a sign in a shop reading “God Bless America. New Furniture Arriving Every Day." The central protagonist of the novel. Brian Remy has shot himself in the head before the novel begins and as a result his memory continually misfires, creating odd gaps and contradictions in the story. As a result, as one reader commented, the novel rings true to that feeling of unreality which follows major traumatic events, the sense that even something as real as death can seem unreal, unbelievable.[38] Society however encourages a more systematic approach to death. Remy is taken aback when he learns tliat his son Edgar has told all his classmates that his father died in the attacks. Edgar knows perfectly well that his father is alive but defends his action in pre-gneving for him as a form of resistance against the generalised grief of his society, a means of insisting on the individual nature of his own emotions. He explains that he has chosen to focus on an individual because

General grief is a lie. What are people in Wyoming really grieving? A loss of safety? Some shattered illusion that a lifetime of purchases and television programs had meaning? The emptiness of their Palm pilots and SU Vs and baggy jeans? (34)

hi the upshot, however, even Edgar cannot avoid the social script for grief. At the close he Is so pleased to have gone through all the official stages of grief that he cannot face appearing to regress by recognising that his father is alive.

I've been through all the stages of grief. You can’t want me to go back.

Wliat, to denial?... Or anger? (279)

Edgar is so completely in the grip of the orthodox model of grief management, Elizabeth Kiibler-Ross's stages of Denial, Anger. Bargaining. Depression and Acceptance, that he breaks off all further contact with his father.”[39]

So can fiction offer emotional resistance? Bharati Mukherjee offers a prescient example, in “The Management of Grief, a short story focussed on what was (until 9/11) the worst terrorist attack involving an aircraft. On 23 June 1985 Air India flight 182, from Toronto and Montreal to New Delhi and Mumbai, exploded over Ireland, causing the deaths ©fall 307 passengersand twenty-two crew. Because it was the first flight from Canada to India at the start of the Canadian school holidays, women and children featured heavily on the passenger manifest. The plane was an hour and a half behind schedule; had it been on time it would have blown up at Heathrow. A second bomb went off less than an hour beforehand, at Narita airport in Tokyo, on another Air India plane bound in the other direction from Vancouver to Bangkok The bombers may not have realised that Canada used daylight saving time, whereas Japan did not, leading to speculation that the two bombs were timed to coincide In a ''spectacular”, a demonstration of rhe terrorist power to encircle the globe. Both bombs involved "inter-lined" luggage and a “Mr Singh" who did not board. This was an event where utopianism and terrorism coincided in different ways. Subsequent investigations revealed that the bombings were almost certainly the work of Canadian-based Sikh terrorists motivated by the desire for an independent Sikh state in India, an imaginary homeland evoked as “Khalistan”, meaning the land of the pure. June was the memorial month for the 1984 Hindu storming of the Sikh Golden temple, and the Air India 182 plane was named the Emperor Kanishka, after a Hindu ruler of India. Mukherjee and her husband Clark Blaise carried out a meticulous investigation of the bombing (drawing death threats down on their heads) which they published as The Sorrow and the Terror. The short story is also set against a background of multi culturalism, a dream which has triggered the Immigrants' movement to Canada, but which in Mukherjee's analysis represents a degenerate utopia, degenerate because it has solidified into an ideology, and because it is multiculturalism (in her argument) which has allowed the terrorists to recruit and to carry out fund-raising in Canadian Sikh temples. Ostensibly multiculturalism accepts difference but, particularly in the Canadian “salad bowl" model as opposed to the American melting pot. it also papers over or ignores contradictions.

The event was however "utopian” in a third sense; it took place nowhere. The bombing was an "unhoused event”,[40] disowned by the governments of both India and Canada. Despite the fact that ninety per cent of the passengers were Canadian, the Canadian government saw it as an Indian event. (The Canadian Prime Minister offered condolences to his Indian counterpart.) India (reluctant to put Sikh-Hindu conflict in the spotlight) dismissed it as an overseas event. It took some days for the Canadians to react officially and send Embassy staff to Ireland. Only the Irish emerged with credit, perhaps because of their own experience of terrorism, welcoming the bereaved into their homes, and offering comfort and support right away. The event became symbolic of the fact that Canadian citizens of immigrant background remained in civil limbo. Terrorism exposed the falsity of the multicultural dream and turned utopia into dystopia. However, whereas The Sorrow and the Terror is a non-fiction work of precise historicity. In "The Management of Grief the facts of terror remain off stage, and the focus Is upon emotion, specifically in relation to rival understandings of grief as either a universalising state of sympathy, or as a resistant cultural phenomenon, dividing rather than uniting. In the story. Judith Templeton, a Canadian social worker, recruits Shaila Bhave, whose husband and children have died in the bombing, as an intermediary with the other grieving relatives, many of whom are too shocked, hysterical, or depressed to function. She is drawn to Shaila by her apparent ability to cope, her calmness and strength. Shaila objects that.

By the standards of the people you call hysterical, I am behaving very oddly and very badly.[41]

By Indian standards Shaila should be screaming. "We must all grieve in our own way "(183). she continues. Her own grief involves ecstatic dreams of her family, hearing voices, seeing an apparition of her husband in an animist temple, and a six month odyssey around India. Judith, however, expects the community of grieving relatives to move from one emotional state to another, following the Western model of grief management, and will reward them accordingly with state money. She is baffled when a Sikh couple reject the proper reward for right emotions, and insist on the principle of hope as the duty of a parent, refusing to accept their sons' deaths, or to sign the documentation which would allow them to collect the reward of compensation from the Canadian government. The couple's Iwo sons died only weeks after they had brought over their aged parents from the Punjab. But despite the fact that they will soon lose all their utilities and their apartment, the parents stand their ground. The father "will not pretend that I accept" (195). Judith is nonplussed. She quotes the textbooks on grief management with their sequence of stages to pass through, compiles a chart and finds that six months after the tragedy very few of the relatives can be categorised as reconstructed. "Depressed Acceptance” (192) is the norm. "Acceptance means you speak of your family in the past tense and you make active plans for moving ahead with your life" (192). The Western model makes no allowance for cultural variation or for an active role in grieving. In this scenario grief manages the individual who moves passively through a set progress of emotions, rather than the mourner being an agent in the management of his or her own feelings. Grief is in the management chair, as the ambiguity of the title suggests, as opposed to being driven by the individual. Indian customs offer a different management model. Despite her belief that remarriage is a form of reconstruction, Judith is taken aback by the speed with which widowers have new marriages arranged for them ("it is the duty of a man to look after a wife” < 190)) returning from India within a month of the disaster with young widows as new brides, and even replacement families.

The story, however, remains utopian in a hopeful sense, in its refusal to settle for the rigid definition of emotion. Louis Marin's thought (Utopks, translated into English in 1984) is relevant here.[42] Marin argues that utopia signifies a space somewhere between true/false, affirmation/negation, a space of neutrality in which contradictions are allowed to play off each other, rather than being resolved, or hidden in the text. Where myth dissolves contradictions by mediating them (life and death, for example) utopia does the reverse, so that happiness may be found in indeterminacy. Marin therefore finds utopia not in a perfected society but in a fictional space in which normal presuppositions of discourse arc suspended. Marin emphasises the importance of spatial play in texts, identifying various works as utopic because they lack a stable ground and generate meaning from the interplay of various spaces, (in such examples as the paintings of Klee, or Pascal's Pensea) thus extending the term “utopia" well beyond the usual range of cultural forms considered.[43]

In the story the space of fiction is also a fiction about the absence of place. The action is constructed around a sequence of spatialised scenes set in hminal locations (in the hallway or on the stairs between rooms, on the shore between land and sea, in an airport customs area, in a shrine mediating between earth and heaven) and the central character is positioned in an indeterminate ideological and emotional state between contrasted "foil" characters who adopt firm ideological positions. At thirty-sixshe istooold to start again but not old enough to give up. "Like my husband's spirit I flutter between worlds" (189). Her grandmother, a young widow had opted for intense piety; her parents are rationalists, leaving her "trapped between two modes of knowledge" (189). Among the bereaved, Dr Ranganathan, a scientist, opts for Western rationalism, and begins a new life in Texas, where nobody knows his past. Shaila's friend Kusum chooses traditional religion and an ashram in Hardwar where she spends her time communing with apparitions of her family. Kusum's traditional daughter, a singer of Indian bhajarts died in the plane. Her other daughter Pam, in love with modernity and consumerism, had chosen Io stay in Canada and work at Wonderland, a theme park. Shaila herself remains somewhere between India and Canada, tradition and modernity, reason and religion. On one level the liminal locations dramatize the position of Lhe characters as belonging nowhere, positioned between worlds and cultures. The reader wonders whether they will stand their ground in their new homeland or give up and "return" to India, for example. Bui tn another sense liminality emerges as a source of power. On the shore in Ireland, looking out towards rhe location of the plane. Kusum has “the bewildered look of a sea-creature whom the tides have stranded” (184), in some interstitial space between land and sea. When they spot a head-shape bobbing in the waves both women plunge into the water, only to return disappointed to land. Yet because her sons' bodies remain nowhere, unlocatable, Shaila (unlike Kusum) has hope. In the makeshift temporary picture gallery which shows photos of the bodies, she Is encouraged to Identify their Images, warned that long immersion in water and broken bones beneath the skin will make their faces heavier. “Try to adjust your memories" (188). When Dr Ranganathan identifies them as the Kutty boys, Shaila weeps but not from disappointment. "On the contrary. I am ecstatic” (188). Being “No place” keeps hope alive. "It's a parent's duty to hope" (186). Ireland, itself right on the edge of Europe. Is a location of warm emotion. "The Irish are not shy; they rush to me and give me hugs and some are crying" (187), says Shaila, who cannot imagine anything similar happening in Toronto. She had never told her husband that she loved him, and was so traditional that she felt uncomfortable using his first name. In Ireland she manages to declare her love, in a poem floated out to sea. Liminality is also coded for agency. When she accompanies Kusum's coffins to India, a furious scene erupts in the customs area of the airport, perhaps the archetypal modern hminal space, neither in one country nor quite in another. When the customs officer is obstructive Shaila screams and swears, and then reflects that she and Kusum had once been well-brought-up young women, their voices sweet and low. Now she is prepared to outrage "customs" and act for herself.

The story ends with Shaila back in Canada, still in an apparently liminal location. Returning from a small errand in Yonge Street (once the longest street in the world) she is walking home to her apartment, equidistant between the Ontario Houses of Parliament and the University of Toronto. Before the bombing Shaila had been apolitical. Like the other Indian immigrants she "stayed out of politics and came halfway around the world to avoid religious and political feuding" (195). Now she writes letters to newspapers and MPs, one of whom advises her:

You want to make a difference? Work on a campaign. Work on mine. Politicize the Indian voter.(196)

The story ends when Shaila, standing on the path, hears the voices of her family, “Your time has come. Go, be brave" (197). She does not know "where this voyage I have begun will end" (197) or even which direction to take, but she starts walking. Ostensibly still in limbo, somewhere between political and cultural arenas, Shaila is none the less moving forward. Until this point the story is largely recounted in the present. Now Shaila recalls the moment “last week” (196) when “1 heard the voices of my family one last time” (197) and moves from the stasis of a frozen present to a past and therefore a future. What emerges from the story Is a validation of the free play of the imagination in an indeterminate space, as opposed to the occupation of a fixed position, or the espousal of “black and white” views, the latter exemplified by the fundamentalist authors of the terrorist act. Marin's connection of utopia and the liminal offers a suggestive transition between “literary utopias" (formal or generic) and what Ruth Levitas would qualify as “emancipatory utopias", which place less emphasis on literary form and more upon critical content.[44] Unlike "Freedom" this story Is in no sense classifiable within the literary genre of utopia, yet its content clearly engages with utopia and in its ending it moves the heroine towards social action. In the story liminality is part of the heroine's conversion to membership of a political community.

The present study focusses upon the presence of utopia, and the dynamic between terror and utopia, in literary fiction by major emerging writers in the last fifteen years. (There is nothing utopian about a bad novel.) At the risk of attenuating some of the surprises, a brief chapter outline of what follows is probably useful. Appropriately the book begins with works which focus first on utopia and then on terror, considering firstly the relation of utopia to language and symbol, and then that of the writer to the terrorist. In her short stories, Kim Edwards (Chapter 2) gives the lie to the idea that utopia has disappeared from literary fiction, taking as her topic the issue of the possibility of utopia in a globalised world. Edwards' stories concern a utopian environmental community, scientific utopianism, local utopias and the ways in which language encodes utopia, drawing on the philosophical thought of Kenneth Burke and employing a technique of pairing stories to maintain a critical dialectic. In The Secrets of a Tire King (2007) Edwards creates powerful images of magical other worlds (in the heavens, underwater, in performance spaces), and lushly tended gardens or paradises abound. But she also asks whether the desire for perfection is itself dangerous, and underlines the ways in which utopia depends upon the exploitation of desire. In A Person of Interest (2008) Susan Choi (Chapter 3) explores the links between writer and terrorist in a novel based upon the historical case of led Kaczynski, otherwise known as the Unabomber. who carried out a series of bomb attacks between 1978 and 1995. Kaczynski's utopian manifesto. Industrial Society and its Future, attacked the technologisation and oversocialisation of contemporary society, arguing for a return to the expression of real feelings rather than approved social emotion. Controversially, the novel accepts the Unabomber's critique of an oversocialised society in which affect is technologised and processed, with any inappropriate response criminalised (here in the examples of the polygraph test, institutionalised grief-fests and media managed emotion). The novel's narrative mode, style indirect libre, clicks with the modern process of socialisation, permeating the Individual protagonist with the imperial stance of the narrator, to produce a voice colonised by socialised processes. As a result the reader oscillates between empathy and irony in relation to the protagonist, Lee. Although the Unabomber offers a suggestive example of the literary terrorist, designing his campaign of terror around literary models, symbolism, word games and invented characters, Choi makes a clear distinction between terrorist and writer. In the novel the terrorist is unmasked by a poet. In the denouement, Choi insists on the primacy of narrative in reconnecting Lee to his emotions, and putting back together a shattered whole. Far from seeing the writer as the double or rival of the destructive terrorist. Choi reasserts the primacy of writing as a creative force.

Three chapters discuss novels about the encounter between America and the Middle East, examining the clash between different utopias- that of American human rights imperialism, that of the Islamic terrorist, and non-Western forms of utopia, notably that which inspired the Islamic revolution of 1979 in Iran, identified with the thought of Navvab Safavl. Terror appears successively Indifferent guises, as the effects of American-sponsored terror (Chapter 4), in the American reaction to 9/11 (Chapter 5) and as Islamic terror unleashed on other minorities (Chapter 6). Chalmers Johnson has argued that attacks on America are a shock to its people because such attacks are "blowback”, the unintended consequences of earlier, covert or forgotten American operations. Iran brings the issue of why Americans “never see it coming" Into sharp focus. Andri Dubus Ill's 1999 novel. House of Sand and Fog (Chapter 4), the first American bestseller centred on a Muslim protagonist (an Iranian-American), was a finalist for the National Book Award, enthusiastically adopted by Oprah, made into a major film, and has some two million copies in print. Yet until quite recently American awareness of Iran was characterised by a combination of ignorance and wholesale amnesia, particularly with respect to American support for the Shah, his secret police and the reign of terror which they exercised. In the novel, “not knowing" is the engine of a plot which counteracts the American exploitation of gender in its propaganda machine. Where popular Iranian-American memoirs “Other" Iran, potentially serving imperialist agendas. House of Sand and Fog pursues a narrative strategy which makes Iranians into Americans and Americans into Iranians. In its focus on human rights imperialism, in the example of the American mission to rescue women from oppression, it anticipates the gender emphasis of its successor. Dubus’s 2008 novel The Garden of Last Days (Chapter 5) which dramatizes the reported encounter on the eve of his mission between a 9/11 terrorist and a Florida stripper. In the novel American and Islamic rescue missions collide. A drunken wife beater abducts the stripper’s little girl in the belief that he is protecting her, while the hijacker, his eyes set upon an Islamic paradise, tries to save the stripper from her degenerate Western life as a commodified sex object. The novel engages with two stories: the deployment in America after 9/11 of a retrograde story drawing upon captivity narratives, the rescue of vulnerable women, and the terror dream of the early settlers; and the clash of rival utopias, that of the terrorist, acting on his belief in one authentic truth, and that of the striptopia of the Puma Club for Men. which offers the illusion of authentic emotional connection in a fake paradise, teasing with images of economic and emotional plenitude. Baulked utopianism feeds retrograde fantasies and violence as power, fantasy and desire play out in the relation between dancer and client. In The Septembers of Shiraz (2007) Dalia Sofer (Chapter 6) interrogates the role of arr in relation to terror, in this case terror unleashed by non-Western forms of utopia. Rival conceptions of the Golden Age, and the exploitation of art in support of those conceptions are considered in relation to the Jews of Iran and their fellow community in America. Sofer complicates any easy condemnation of one side—-Jewish or Muslim, American, or Iranian, religious or secular—by a technique of juxtaposed narratives and iconic images drawn from Iranian art and photography.

The argument now moves outwards from fiction which is anchored in the specifics of time and place to dystopian novels which deform recognisable temporal or geographical locations, and draw connections between utopia and empire, the one in terms of religion, the other in terms of race. In Toward the End of Time (1997) John Updike (Chapter 7) interrogates cosmology and drawing upon the work of Elaine Pagels and Lewis Mumford to promote the local over the global, to undermine Manichean images of global conflict and to challenge the demonological roots of American political rhetoric. In constructing his dystopic society, Updike exploits the branching paths of “many worlds theory” to transport his readers from a balkanised post-imperial America in 2020 to ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, monastic Ireland and Poland in 1944. Each excursion into a so-called parallel universe concerns the end of an empire: ancient Egypt as the pyramids are looted, Rome as the Christians expand in all directions, Christian monasticism during the Holy Roman Empire as the Vikings appear upon the horizon, the Third Reich with defeat imminent. The excursions suggest a continuing cycle of resurgent imperialism, as the death of one civilisation contains within it the seeds of ordinary people and small local communities to totalitarian forces. Chapter 8 moves beyond America (and the American writer) in a novel which also moves America geographically to the margins. In her neo-slave narrative, Blonde Roots (2008) Bernardine Evaristo constructs a trenchant critique of the utopian qualities of Paul Gilroy’s “Black Atlantic” model, which draws positives from the effects of the African Diaspora. In her family history Evaristo, who descends from an Afro-Brazilian slave heritage via Nigeria and Britain, encapsulates the diasporic reach of the “Black Atlantic.” The neo-slave narrative is a transnational genre, with examples in North and South America, Europe and Africa.[45] Evaristo makes the Middle Passage a metaphor for temporal and geographical dislocation by rearranging the geography of the globe so that “Aphrika” and the “United Kingdom of Great Ambossa”, though on the Equator, lie to the north of Europa, whence “whyte” slaves are kidnapped by “blaks”, to be exported across the Atlantic to work on the plantations of the West Japanese Islands. By moving everything South, Evaristo effectively transfers the Black Atlantic from Northern to Southern hemispheres, correcting Gilroy’s Anglo-American bias, and relegating “Amarika” to the sidelines. Evaristo none the less follows Gilroy, however in the treatment of terror. Gilroy argues that racial terror is not just compatible with Western rationality but complicit with it. Following Gilroy, the slave’s story is interrupted by an extended excursus into the thoughts of the slaver, a “blak” racist intellectual. Evaristo uses a cliff-hanger plot device to position the slaver’s views between the moments of the terror-stricken slave’s realisation that recapture is imminent, and the brutal whipping which follows her apprehension. The reader moves from terror to a pseudo rational creed of scientific racism and back to terror, so that the reader’s anxiety over the slave’s fate permeates every “rational” word with emotion.

Successive chapters have moved from the evocation of utopia, through experiences of terror, whether American or Middle Eastern, to the dystopian scenarios of Updike and Evaristo. The final chapter comes full circle, returning to the utopian image, but in the context of disaster. Chitra Divakaruni’s 2009 novel, One Amazing Thing, sets out to investigate the role of story in relation to disaster, offering a modestly utopian conclusion. In the novel nine survivors of a disaster, trapped in a basement, combat the stress of the situation by each narrating the story of one amazing thing in their own experiences. Loosely based on Boccaccio’s Decameron, also a disaster utopia, the novel dramatizes the ways in which story can defeat time, and open out onto other worlds. The survivors bond into a community in proportion as the disaster Escalates in the collapse of material structures around them, an narrative structures also merge into each other, creating a fleeting utopia out of catastrophe and collapse. The novel offers a corrective to Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, in which she argued for a dystopian view of disaster, categorised as an opportunity for the implementation of brutal free- market programs when the public have been disorientated by wars, coups, or natural disasters. In contrast Rebecca Solnit argued that disaster may be utopian, as her book. A Paradise Built in Hell, indicates in its title. After 9/11 Americans discovered, if fleetingly, that disaster involves sharing loss, danger and deprivation and produces intimate group solidarity among survivors, emotional and physical support, and an embryonic civil society.

As the outline above indicates, not only do the writers considered here still have hopes of transforming society, whether by promulgating utopian images or constructing dystopian critiques, they also employ narrative techniques which draw the reader closely into the text, doubling reader and narrator, or reader and character for example, challenging the predictable emotional scripts of contemporary society, and undermining its political rhetoric and dominant narratives. Almost no secondary criticism exists in relation to Edwards, Choi, Dubus, Sofer, Evaristo and Divakaruni, in part because these works were almost all published in the last five years, but also arguably because they resist the prevalence in contemporary American fiction of works driven by a desire to repel the reader, a phenomenon which Kathryn Hume has identified as the product of political despair. In Aggressive Fictions Hume paints a decidedly dystopian picture of contemporary American fiction, describing novels which make readers wish to stop reading (or wish that they had never started), works which proceed at a narrative speed which undermines the ability to interpret (Burroughs, Reed), emphasise complaint (Ozick, Dworkin, Roth), indulge in unmitigated gloom about the future (McCarthy, Pahlaniuk), or involve grotesque images (Katherine Dunn) or extreme sex and violence (Bret Easton Ellis and host of others.)

Not only do writers scream in your ear, but they do the mental equivalent of pissing on your shoes, holding a knife to your throat, or spouting nuclear physics at you as well. A surprising amount of the fiction makes readers feel attacked or abused by a writer who seems hostile.[46]

Hume’s user unfriendly fiction fails to mobilise sympathy, evoke shared human feelings, create empathetic characters, or embody any sense of confidence in the world or in our capacity to transform it. In contrast, however dark or critical my chosen writers may be (and they are not by any means Oprahfied examples of sweetness and light) masochist readers will remain unsatisfied with what follows.

2. Rotten with Perfection

Kim Edwards, The Secrets of a Fire King


3. Fiction and the Unabomber

Susan Choi, A Person of Interest

Susan Choi’s 2008 novel, A Person of Interest begins quite literally with a bang, as a terrorist bomb blows Professor Hendley to bits. Even more shocking is the reaction of his colleague, Lee, in the adjacent office, “Oh, good.”[1] Until the explosion Lee had never admitted to himself how much he disliked Hendley, “a raw, never-mined vein of thought in an instant laid bare by the force of explosion” (3). Lee resents Hendley because of his popularity which makes Lee, an aged professor, feel obsolete and unloved. Hendley, a computer whiz kid, has been hired at some cost by the university maths department, whence he proclaims his intention of “midwifing an unprecedented information-technology age that would transform the world as completely as had the industrial revolution” (6). Hendley is worldly, engaged, more likely to publish in a magazine full of ads for “a mysterious item called Play-Station” (6) than in a dusty scholarly journal. Lee, on the other hand, is a lonely Luddite, who watches television on a blizzard-prone Zenith and remains wedded to his Montblanc fountain pen and pads of paper.

It is instructive to juxtapose this opening scene with a quotation from a philosophical critique of technological civilisation.

The moral code of our society is so demanding that no-one can think, feel and act in a completely moral way. For example, we are not supposed to hate anyone, yet almost everybody hates somebody at some time or other, whether he admits it to himself or not. Some people are so highly socialized that the attempt to feel and act morally imposes a severe burden on them. In order to avoid feelings of guilt, they continually have to deceive themselves about their own motives and find moral explanations for feelings and actions that in reality have a non-moral origin. We use the term “oversocialized” to describe such people.[2]

The passage is quoted from Industrial Society and its Future, the manifesto of Ted Kaczynski, otherwise known as the Unabomber, who carried out a series of bomb attacks between 1978 and 1995, targeting universities and airlines, killing three people, and injuring 23 more. Kaczynski was motivated by a utopian desire to end the domination of technology and return to an essentially pastoral world. Like Choi’s fictional terrorist, Donald Whitehead, aka the Brain Bomber, Kaczynski was a highly educated mathematical genius, renowned for solving a problem in pure maths which had defeated his colleagues, who landed a plum job at UCLA Berkeley, only to leave after two years and retire to live in self-sufficient isolation in a remote cabin in the Northwest, whence he launched his campaign of terror.[3] Choi’s novel is set in the mid-1990s, as the reference to the newly marketed PlayStation (launched in America in 1995) implies. Digital technology is in its infancy. Emma Stiles, the discoverer of Hendley’s mortally- wounded body, enjoys the privilege of access to the Internet, a mysterious process which the full-time secretaries do not understand (7); they assume it is some sort of vocational training. The irony cuts two ways here. Lee may appear old fashioned with his pen and paper, but the temporal setting also places Hendley in an ironic perspective. For today’s reader, Hendley’s two huge computers with their “robotic bleeps” and “primitive honks” (4), and the “strange goose-like yodel” (5) of his dial-up modem, relegate the apparent whiz kid to the obsolescence of yesteryear. The pen is mightier than the dial-up modem.

Choi’s irony suggests the implicit rivalry between writer and programmer. Hendley thought that he was going to lead the mouldering world of scholarship into the digital age and saw himself as “revitalizing the dying university” (6). The irony is crashing. Hendley ends up dead and, from the perspective of 2008, also quaintly old fashioned. Shockingly, therefore, the irony of the text appears to align the novelist with the terrorist’s own mission, in demolishing the claims of technology, a process assisted by the third person focalisation through Lee, in free indirect discourse. It could be Lee in the 1990s who thinks that PlayStation and Internet are “mysterious” but it is only a later narrator with knowledge of more sophisticated computers who could call the modem “primitive”. The narrative spotlight catches Hendley in a beam of irony.

Choi is not of course the first writer to draw attention to the links between writer and terrorist. Margaret Scanlan, for one, has argued for an affinity between the writer and the terrorist, given the Romantic image of the writer as a legislator of mankind, a revolutionary or an outsider, marginal to society. Indeed, some writers (DeLillo, Dostoevsky) envisage terrorists as in some senses their rivals, in fiction which is increasingly pessimistic about the novelist’s social power. DeLillo has argued that there is a deep narrative structure to terrorist acts.[4] Critics have connected DeLillo’s Mao II to his doubts concerning the effectiveness of fiction in a world given over to the electronic media. The protagonist, Bill Gray, worries that the traditional role of authors is giving way to that of terrorists, in that terrorism offers a superior means of achieving a voice.[5] “If the writer has lost the power to influence the social future with his work, then the terrorist has learnt how to use the society of spectacle and images in his favour.”[6]The degree to which terrorists influence mass consciousness measures the extent of the novelist’s decline as a shaper of sensibility and thought. Scanlan also notes particular cases in which terrorists appear to have drawn upon and exploited novels, including the Unabomber, who was widely thought to have been influenced by Conrad’s The Secret Agent, with its themes of anarchy, alienation and dehumanisation. Both Conrad’s Professor and Kaczynski were brilliant, isolated and ascetic bomb makers.[7]

The Unabomber offers a suggestive example of the literary terrorist in several other respects. All his bombs were sent using Eugene O’Neill $1 stamps, presumably in homage to O’Neill’s 1928 play Dynamo in which technology figures as a god that will destroy mankind. Kaczynski also played clever word games, and adopted a dominant symbol, wood. His bombs were partly made of wood or disguised as pieces of lumber. One bomb was sent inside a book published by Arbor House, a company using a tree leaf as a trademark. His third victim was Percy Wood, who lived in Lake Forest; his tenth lived in Ann Arbor; his fifteenth on Aspen Drive; the sixteenth worked for the California Forestry Association and the bomb was sent from a fictitious wood-working company in Oakland. Kaczynski wrote to the San Francisco Chronicle as “Isaac Wood of Wood Street, Woodlake”, and at one point supplied a social security number which turned out to be that of a convict, who had been tattooed “pure wood.” In Choi’s novel the first letter from the bomber to Lee is sent from Maple Lane, Woodmont, the second from Ailanthus Circle, Lumberton, and reference is made to a previous bombing involving an academic at UCLA who picked up a piece of wood and lost several fingers. It is a macabre moment when Lee’s friend Fasano comments, “Knock wood, so far no one’s dead” (74). While the Unabomber’s symbolic system initially suggested an environmentalist eco-terrorist, it was in fact a literary reference, familiar to any reader of Chaucer. In Old English to be “wood” is to be mad or angry. Kaczynski was certainly very angry and also extremely well-read, with a cabin full of books, augmented by heavy use of his local library. Choi’s Brain Bomber is similarly literary, also befriends the local librarian, and sprinkles his utterances with literary quotations. White- head is described as the leader of Lee’s cohort of graduate students, most of whom are goldenly handsome, and brooding in the Byronic vein, wearing studiedly Romantic garb. For the Byrons, as Lee christens them, introverted disconnection from society is a badge of genius; Whitehead is merely the most extreme example of their assumed Romantic alienation.

Fairly obviously, a novel about a terrorist must discuss or dramatize their motivating ideas, and risks lending the terrorist the oxygen of publicity. Again, the Unabomber case is at the sharp end of the spectrum. In 1995 Kaczynski demanded that his 35,000 word manifesto be published by a major newspaper, offering to end his campaign if the New York Times or Washington Post would print it. (If only the less respectable Penthouse printed it he reserved the right to plant one more bomb.) As he wrote in the manifesto, using a fictional “we”,

If we had never done anything violent and had submitted the present writings to a publisher, they probably would not have been accepted. ... In order to get our message before the public with some chance of making a lasting impression, we have had to kill people.[8]

A storm of protest erupted, centred on the morality of publishing under duress the work of a killer. But following the intervention of Janet Reno, the Attorney General, his publishing strategy worked. The Times and the Post went ahead in the hope that somebody would recognise the killer’s distinctive writing style. And indeed somebody did, Kaczynski’s brother, who after protracted soul-searching contacted the authorities. Stylistic analysis of his letters revealed his guilt. Ironically, given that Kaczynski deplored the weakened family ties of the modern world and the dominance of society, his brother felt more responsibility to society than to him.[9] The news media which he had courted also hastened his arrest; they got wind of the FBI stakeout and gave them 24 hours grace before they planned to break the story. Kaczynski was seized in his cabin and eventually sentenced to life in prison.

The reason that the authorities took so long to capture Kaczynski may be ascribed to the pathologising of the terrorist, who was seen in psychological terms, thus displacing the focus from the political and social causes of violence to private or personal concerns. The FBI assumed a psychological motive (jealousy of an academic colleague, for example) rather than that the Unabomber was killing to promote his ideas. Lee makes a similar mistake, assuming that the bomber is professionally jealous of a more successful academic. As he comments, baffled by the notion of a series of attacks on academics, “Who would want to kill us? We’re only professors. We don’t do anything” (12). But actually Kaczynski chose his victims, including computer specialists, a geneticist, and a company executive, for the ideas which they represented. As his biographer Allston Chase comments,

For him, they assumed the ontological status of characters in a novel.[10]

So how does a novelist compete with a rival who has designed his campaign around literary models, symbolism, language and characterisations? As I shall argue, Choi artfully inhabits the bomber’s symbols, and takes them over, layering them with alternative narrative meanings in a palimp- sestic narration. Writing in the spirit of Marin, Choi generates meanings from the interplay of various spaces, and from a narrative structure which exploits the absence of a stable narratorial ground. Events are doubled across dual time schemes and characters also doubled, forming shadows to each other, disrupting one-dimensional representations. Choi also makes a clear distinction between terrorist and writer in her plot, and does not endorse the idea of an affinity between fellow outsiders. In the novel, the betrayal is not by a brother. The terrorist is identified by a poet, with whom he had corresponded. At first the poet follows the Brain Bomber story with anarchic glee, but when he reads the manifesto he feels as if “a specter of his poet’s invention had materialized” (321), as if one of his characters had come to life. Far from feeling kinship with Whitehead as a Byronic outsider, the poet is terrified that he too will become a target, and calls the police. When Lee lures the bomber out of his cabin so that he can be captured, a character bearing the name of Jim Morrison, the archetypal countercultural rebel, lead singer of The Doors, and focus for a Romantic cult, is the FBI agent who makes the arrest.

Choi, however, does portray the sinister power of the state, against which the marginalised outsider is pitted, complicating the plot by combining most of the major elements of the Unabomber case with a second historical source, the case of an innocent victim of state persecution. At the risk of a minor digression it is important to underline how this case is employed (in somewhat altered form) to expand the frame of reference of the novel, away from ethnic issues, in order to focus on issues of socialisation and technologised emotion. Where the Unabomber case appears to confirm the necessity for state vigilance and surveillance, the second source puts state power under the microscope, particularly in relation to the effective suspension of civil liberties in a federal investigation with associated trial by media. In 1999 Wen Ho Lee, a Taiwanese-American scientist who worked for the Los Alamos national laboratories was falsely accused of passing nuclear secrets to the People’s Republic of China. He endured 278 days in gaol, eventually pleaded guilty to one charge of not storing his computer files correctly, was sentenced to 278 days, and immediately walked free. Both the judge and President Bill Clinton apologised to him. Like Choi’s Lee, Wen Ho Lee saw the story leaked to the New York Times, which published assertions as if they were facts.[11] His life became a media circus; reporters, FBI agents, TV satellite trucks and photographers camped on his doorstep and trampled over his neighbours’ gardens. His house was ransacked, his phone bugged and he was trailed everywhere by up to a dozen FBI agents in five or six cars, all of which is exactly as happens in Choi’s novel. In one significant respect, however, Choi’s story differs from her source. In the novel relatively little is made of Lee’s ethnicity. Choi never specifies Lee’s place of origin. In interview she said that she had deliberately selected a generic surname, and when she was unable to find a similarly generic forename, decided not to supply one.[12] He is merely Professor Lee, and could be from Taiwan, China, Japan, Malaysia or Korea. The reader only knows that he spoke Japanese as a child, and has memories of living through a violent civil war. When an FBI agent fishes for his identity with Japanese phrases and discussion of Asian food, he is non-committal (136). As a student, stopped by American police as a potential Communist agent, he points out that he speaks no Chinese language, and hates Communists for what they did to his family (144). His ethnic identity remains unspecified.

It is tempting to see this post-ethnic impetus as being in tune with Kaczynski’s arguments. One of the groups whom the modern individual is not supposed to hate, according to the Unabomber’s manifesto, is the ethnic minority. Kaczynski argued that the modern focus on minority rights was a diversion from tackling the real enemy, the industrial-technological system: “in the struggle against the system ethnic distinctions are of no importance.”[13]The post-ethnic presentation is also a major deviation from Choi’s historical source. In Choi’s novel only one incident suggests a racial motivation on the part of the FBI. Lee is subjected to a lie-detector test, which he passes, only to be told that the results have been reinterpreted on the grounds that Asians cannot produce reliable results. According to the agent, they lack the Judeo-Christian ethical orientation and have a relative notion of truth (200). As a result he cannot polygraph Asians, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysians, Indonesians or Koreans. Nor can he get reliable results from Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis or natives of the Middle East. All Arabs are impossible, as are Hassidic Jews. The Taiwanese are “a maybe” (200). Polygraph testing is now discredited and considered as pretty much akin to belief in the tooth fairy.[14] However, when Wen Ho Lee was accused he was given a polygraph test by the FBI, told that he had passed, given three more tests, then told that the results had been reinterpreted and that he had failed them all.[15] But unlike the case of Choi’s Lee, that of Wen Ho Lee swiftly became an ethnic issue. He received hate mail claiming that no Chinese should work in American laboratories, as they were more loyal to China than to America (doubly ironic given that he was not Chinese and had survived the Mainland Chinese invasion of Taiwan, with attendant massacres). There were waves of protests across the US with several groups suggesting that his arrest was driven by his ethnicity.[16] As a result of his experiences Wen Ho Lee was politicised and in his own account of his ordeal argues that “Chinese American and Asian American people have to stand up.” “If you don’t get involved, whatever you have can be taken away from you.”[17] His politicisation occurred despite community and family solidarity: his daughter had campaigned vigorously for him, her fifth grade teacher had offered her house as bail-security, and his neighbours stood by him, hosting a huge celebration when he was released, an example, in his own words, of “America at its best”.[18] In contrast, in Choi’s novel America does not get off nearly so lightly. Lee’s daughter is absent, his neighbours and colleagues shun him, a brick is thrown through his window and his mailbox vandalised.

In contrast to her source material, Choi only allows Lee’s ethnicity to emerge in the denouement of the novel. Some twenty pages from the end, as the FBI prepare to storm the snowbound cabin, he remembers that the Communist soldiers had worn white cotton clothes in the winter and crawled through the snow while invading his country (333). The reference is to the Chinese invasion across the snow of the Korean winter in 1950, also referred to in Choi’s The Foreign Student[19] The alert reader finds out who Lee once was—Korean—only once his story has been told and he has been established, not as a victim, but as a hero, the foreign-born American who has saved his country from a home-grown terrorist. It is also at this point in the novel that Lee discovers the true identity of the bomber, his former colleague Donald Whitehead not, as he had thought, Lewis Gaither whose wife Aileen he stole many years before. Lee had needed Gaither’s villainy to excuse his own ignoble acts. Just as the Unabomber created characters to embody his ideas so Lee, unable to admit his hatred for Gaither, has cast him in the character of the bomber out of guilt over his own previous actions, which led to the loss of Aileen’s son, abducted by Gaither and his new wife, Ruth. The issue is not ethnic at all. The Brain Bomber is American through and through, as was the Unabomber. To strengthen her major point Choi uses the Wen Ho Lee material to cast the United States in a less than affirmative light, and to focus on the home grown nature of terror. As a student at Harvard Kaczynski was the victim of CIA-sponsored experiments in interrogation techniques, which his biographer argues were instrumental in making him into a bomber, and from which he draws the moral that “Terrorism is as much a product of our own history, ideas and values as those of other people.[20] Lee is a transnational figure in a globalised and technologised world, rather than a representative of any one ethnic group.

Thus, in contrast to Wen Ho Lee, Choi’s Lee’s experience of interrogation by polygraph focuses on technology and socialisation rather than ethnicity. When Lee undergoes the lie detector test and appears to have passed, he feels relief in being “verified by a machine” (185). In its rubber grip he experiences a sedative effect as if he had “outflanked his emotions” (184). The machine allows him to demonstrate his completely moral nature, his total absence of wrongdoing, and he feels “clean and reborn” (186). The polygraph relies on skin conductivity, heart rate and breathing; any surge of emotion will register as deception. As such it is a microcosm of an overmechanised society in which affect is technologised and processed, with any inappropriate response—indeed any strong response at all—seen as a sign of guilt. Just by sitting the test, Lee becomes a suspect person in the eyes of his colleagues, and realises the theatricality of innocence in playing one’s role in society, the necessity not merely to be moral but to look the part, to be “in character” and enact his innocence to the social audience.

Choi was drawn to the Unabomber case partly because her father had been a graduate student with Kaczynski at the University of Michigan. When she read the manifesto she commented that it was “not garbage. It’s interesting”.[21] This is hardly surprising, perhaps. After an initial flurry of attention the manifesto faded swiftly from view, probably because most of its ideas were so familiar.[22] As Timothy Luke comments, Kaczynski took his place in a long line of American oddballs, beginning with Thoreau, who have moved into shacks on the edge of civilisation and penned jeremiads against society’s oppression.[23] Millions of Americans share at some level Kaczynski’s utopian desire to end the domination of technology, the alienation of human beings from nature and the loss of small family-centred communities. Kaczynski drew eclectically on a variety of thinkers, cherry- picking ideas which suited his own technophobia. The manifesto particularly reflects Jacques Ellul’s understanding of technology as not merely machinery but as a category of knowledge, so that behavioural psychology, bureaucracy or political lobbying may be understood as “technologies”. One of the Unabomber’s victims was the executive of a public relations firm, chosen because its business was seen as the development of techniques for the manipulation of people’s attitudes and emotions.[24] Kaczynski saw “human dignity and freedom bleeding away into pre-processed modes of subjectivity.”[25] Oversocialisation (by which he appears to mean social conformity achieved by propaganda, image and emotion control, education, or surveillance) had denied individuals the freedom to control their own lives. His was an agency panic in the face of increased state power.

Kaczynski also drew on E.F. Schumacher (“small is beautiful”) and Leopold Kohr, for notions of ecology of scale, favouring the recollectivisation of human beings in small communities. Kaczynski’s core philosophy was a form of cultural primitivism, condemning bigness (big business, government or science) as destructive of local cultures. He argued that where once technology served us we now serve technology, so that the modern industrial-technological system reduces people to cogs in a social machine, running on rails laid down by government. Science and technology provide government with the tools to control billions of people. TNCs move people and factories from one country to another because they can use planes, phones, computers and satellites. Therefore (in his argument) the only way to shrink such institutions was to take away their tools of technology. Kaczynski was not arguing for a change of government or a political revolution, but for the overthrow of the economic and technological bases of modern society, effectively for the end of globalisation. In his view the system was not grounded in ideology but on technical necessity. Although he appeared to defend small-scale technology as against organization-technology, the system could not be easily broken down into small communities with the “good” parts of technology separated from the “bad”. As an anarchist his aim therefore was to create social instability and usher in a time of trouble and uncertainty which would magically achieve the destruction of technology. (The irony of using sophisticated bomb technology to achieve his aims appears to have been lost on him.) Similarly he wanted to destroy large-scale systems such as public utilities, computer networks and highway systems, yet used the postal system and the Greyhound bus network to deliver his bombs. The positive ideal which he proposed was that of a return to “wild nature”, those aspects of nature which are beyond human management, independent of human imagination and free from human interference.[26] As Cynthia Ozick noted, “His dream was of a green and pleasant land liberated from the curse of technological proliferation.”[27] While at times sounding as if his project was not far removed from bombing America back to the Stone Age, the ideal appears to be that of the American frontier, with people in tune to a large extent with nature, and pursuing individual freedom in small groups.

In some respects Choi takes the Unabomber’s ideas seriously. One example which the Unabomber offers is that of the freedom of walking where one will, as opposed to the modern use of the car, which means that we have to follow the rules of the road (as a pedestrian or a driver); we can only go where roads go; and in most of America, we have to have a car to be able to function at all. In Choi’s novel Lee escapes from media surveillance by following his old jogging paths, slipping back into his house through the tall pines of his boundary and remaining undetected because none of the hostile neighbours camped on his doorstep with the media assume he can possibly be there—because his car is not there. At several points in the novel Lee escapes from social control into parks or woods, and images of trees and woods are frequently associated with him, revising their more sinister association with the bomber. Choi takes the bomber’s symbol and reverses its aspect, just as in the denouement she replaces the letters from the bomber with a letter which reintegrates family and social networks, as opposed to emphasising a narrative of estrangement. In the third part of the novel walking comes close to salvation for Gaither’s son, a committed hiker who discovers his true self in a forest. In the outcome, knowledge of who he is depends upon his awareness of the age at which he first walked freely by himself.

In addition “oversocialisation” is a constant theme in the novel, which sets up a dynamic opposition between natural, authentic emotion and oversocialised pretence. After the bombing Lee feels so guilty at his initial reaction that he puts on a terrific show of grief. Coming out of the hospital he steps into a thoroughly unnatural scene, in which the tulips glow a livid white as if “blasted by rays of the moon”, their shadows so crisp they look “razored” (12). This blasted environment is the result of the harsh, bluish lights of the news cameras. Engulfed in a stroboscopic crowd, Lee is interviewed apparently blazing with rage, describing Hendley as one of the great thinkers of the day, a man of the future (13). Afterwards, watching himself on television, he feels as if seeing “a stranger perform a harsh version of him” (14). As a result of his outburst, however, his newly discovered dislike for Hendley is so well-concealed from his colleagues, that he is soon also “able to conceal from himself his own poor sentiments” (15). Lee’s performance, however, is not sustainable for long, and he attracts suspicion because he is incapable of maintaining a social mask. He fails to attend Hendley’s funeral or to meet grief-counsellors, or to participate in the University’s corporately managed grief-fest, a mourning machine ferociously satirised by Choi. When Lee arrives for Monday class ready to counsel his students, it is to discover that the University has replaced any individual speeches with a corporately authored script, to be read to all classes at the same time. Individual utterance has been replaced by an official text designed to control and manage emotion—anathema to any creative writer. Public relations appear to have triumphed. Meanwhile scores of grief-counsellors are holding “talk-outs” and “one on one" meetings with students. Because Hendley died late on a Friday, the machinery (and it is described as machinery) has been set in motion over the weekend, the committees swiftly cobbled together over the “telephone tree”,

the news relayed-no time for tears-Friday night, no time for dissent--Saturday, its components amazingly hauled into place on Sunday. (78)

While the bombing shuts down the University’s computers, it turns on a sophisticated social machinery. The Grief Plan offers a technology for managing affect, produced by bureaucracy, and with a corporate text. Lee’s own voice has been suppressed in favour of an official discourse. His mind moves to a November day when he saw students clustered in similar groups on campus, the day Kennedy was shot. Today’s students seem less traumatized than “elevated by the sense of a drama in which they played roles” (83), a thoroughly distasteful spectacle of staged grief. Hendley is not after all J.F.K. and the college’s official solemnization is both self-important and sanctimonious. It is however effectively compulsory to participate in the machinery, and act in character, as Lee discovers to his cost.

So far, the novel might well seem to engage positively with some of the Unabomber’s points, demonstrating the danger of oversocialisation, the salvatory role of nature, the horrors of technology (whether computers, polygraph or behavioural psychology) and the alienation of the lonely individual. (Lee, twice-divorced, lives alone and appears estranged from his only daughter.) Things are however rather more complicated than that, as the method of the novel demonstrates, particularly its mode of narration. Choi divides the novel into three parts, in each of which discrete self-contained chapters move between past and present. The impression is less of traumatic fragmentation than of fragments being juxtaposed meaning u y so that a whole story can be put back together. The bomb has e^P°^e “long-buried strata” (76) in Lee’s emotional landscape primarily the history of his first marriage. For several weeks Lee almost orgets a out dley, lost in memories of Aileen,

with so many of the artifacts of Lee’s own life catapulted aloft, with the arbitrary detritus of this era and that of chapters heretofore held apart, now suspended together in space, and demanding Lee gaze on them. (76)

While the image suggests a freeze frame of a bomb blast it also implies a narrative of his life which will now be reconnected, its chapters no longer held apart, but becoming a connected story. Events in the mid-1990s alternate with memories of some thirty years before. At least half of the novel appears therefore to have nothing to do with the terrorist plot, particularly in Part Three where the point of view undergoes a tectonic shift from Lee to Aileen's lost son. introduced without warning into the narrative. The novel thus insists on the primacy of narrative in reconnecting Lee to his emotions, and putting back together a shattered whole. Far from seeing the writer as the double or rival of the destructive terrorist, Choi reasserts the primacy of writing as a creative force in meeting the challenge of a technologised world. Paul Harris has argued that in the globalized world the human need for stability becomes more acute, and narrative becomes more essential as a means to tune worldly discourse into a coherent resonance, to help make sense of the world. "Narrative ultimately becomes a tuning into the world which rediscovers and re-establishes our place, our home in it."[28] In A Person of Interest Choi constructs a narrative which re-establishes a place in the world for Lee, and for Aileen's son. At the close of the novel, Lee is astonished to realise that his life has been as normal and varied and full as White-head's has been narrow and empty. He has been a "person of interest", a rounded character. Whitehead was only a person of interest in the sense that he became a suspect. Terrorists do not create, they merely destroy, a banal point to make, perhaps, but one which underlies Choi's novel in which the forces of creation--biological in the shape of Aileen's children--constantly tug the reader back towards the recognition of the emptiness of the terrorist mission. This emphasis on human creativity as her value field allows Choi also to avoid the narrative problem of contesting ideas which, in themselves, may have something to recommend them, and which could be opposed only in detailed analysis, rather than in dramatic narrative terms. There is little to quarrel with in many of the Unabomber’s ideas—the quarrel is with the violent means which he adopted to propagate them.

Choi focusses on the issue of writing through the opposition of different letters, destructive and creative. Lee is unjustly suspected of being the bomber himself when his mail is screened by the police, who detect a letter which he had not mentioned receiving. The letter is illegibly signed, and Lee assumes it is from Aileen’s betrayed husband, concealing it from the investigators, because he is mortified that his only piece of personal mail is a letter full of hatred. Lee is swift to parse the letter in terms of alienation and outsiderhood. The letter-writer refers to a photograph of Lee in the press und comments, Princely’, I believe, was the word sometimes used around campus for you 1140). Lee is enraged; he resents his status as a “you” who is not part of some great campus we” (140). His sensitivity to grammatical person is acute. In response to the letter Lee tries to phone Gaither but the directory cannot find any number for him, and he draws out his Mont-blanc, reduced to hand writing a reply to the letter, a message which also fails to get through; the address is false. Clutching the letter, he is appalled (just like the Unabomber) by the way in which the postal system has kept going regardless of the bombing. “Its vast, branching, impersonal systematicity” suddenly revolts him (40). The letter has got through, however, to the reader of the novel who has read bot the original and Lee’s reply in full. In the novel the process of reading is deliberately highlighted by the presence of the fictional reader (Lee) between the letter and the reader calling attention to the writer s ability to create a finer emotional truth.

Aileen s letter describing her emotions on the birth of her son and during his first weeks of life, hand-delivered to Lee, stands as a counter-letter to the bomber’s. Importantly, her letter interrupts the dominant narrative mode of the novel, free indirect discourse, with her unchecked first person narrative. In the novel, the narrator is in a relation of wavering empathy and irony in relation to Lee, precisely because of the use of free indirect discourse. In relation to Aileen’s letter, for example, the reader learns that

These were sentiments Lee wasn’t convinced a wife would share with her husband; why would Aileen want to share them with him? And such outsize, almost lunatic, fervor for her child. (124)

While the first clause reports from the outside (third person) viewpoint, the second is a rendering of Lees own question (without any phrase such as “he wondered or he asked himself”). And the emotional tone of the third, almost an exclamation, is clearly the childless Lee’s personal view of love for a child as lunatic. As Franco Moretti has commented, the “Style indirect fibre” is a style that clicks with the modern process of socialisation; it leaves the individual voice a certain freedom while permeating it with the imperial stance of the narrator, turning subjective into objective.[29]'-'In classic nineteenth century novels (Austen for example) it lends itself to irony, producing a voice somewhere between character and narrator, a socialized voice with the inner voice colonized by social commonplaces. (Compare “These were sentiments. ...” (124) with the opening sentence of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”) Free indirect discourse offers a position of “implicit and almost invisible social mediation.”[30] The voice of the character is checked and regulated by social discourse. But it also allows for a blend of empathy and irony, allowing personal idioms and a distinct individual tone along with the narrator’s detachment. Often an emotional phrase sparks the style into being. "Signs of emotion function as signs of self reference.”[31] They are signals of a personal situation, and a recognisable personal style. There is nothing remotely socialised in Lee’s third clause, in which he condemns a mother as a maniac for loving her child. Choi exploits this shifting objective and subjective style in order to move between past and present, exposing the false socialisations and the personal evasions of the past, and allowing Lee a voice of his own. As readers, therefore, we are both with—and against —Lee.

Ostensibly the title of the novel refers to Lee, who is named by t e as a “person of interest” to their investigation. But it also refers to the manner of its narration: between first and third person there is a person o considerable narrative interest. In legal terminology a person of interest is somebody who is relevant to a judicial investigation, who can come under third party surveillance but who is not actually accuses as a suspect.[32] The person of interest has come to the attention of the authorities, is under a degree of surveillance; and may be closely observed and questioned, but has not lost his liberty. Similarly Lee is not always directly in the sights of the narrator but enjoys a measure of first person freedom, escaping from social definition. Style indirect libre (as Cohn notes) is a highly kinetic style, drawing the reader in and out of the character, and veering between sympathy and irony, amplifying emotional notes, but throwing into ironic relief all false notes struck by the figural mind.[33] Here, the text weaves in and out of Lee’s mind, alternately fusing and separating external action and inner reality, facts and reflections. Grammatical person is therefore at the centre of the meaning of the novel. In similar fashion the structure of the novel alternates between subjective and objective frames of reference to restore a whole sense of the past. The events surrounding the bombing alternate with memories of sexual love and Aileen’s developing pregnancy, with an emphasis on the contrast between natural emotion and technologized affect.

Choi also demolishes the Romantic image of the pro-nature terrorist by exploiting that most emblematic of Romantic poetic strategies, the pathetic fallacy, with its attribution of human emotions to nature, using the technique ironically to indicate that there can be no wild nature beyond the human imagination. Nature is permeated with Lee’s imaginings and his I emotional projections. Aileen and Lee first meet at an evangelical cookout, j with prayers and square dancing, linked to the preceding scene in the present by the motif of tulips. Although the cookout is supposed to be a pleasant I excursion into nature, the weather is cold and windy and the wind-lashed tulips are described as “flinging themselves supplicatingly” on the ground, suggesting penitents “prostrating themselves in abased ecstasy” (20). The connection which Lee makes between guilt, religion and ecstasy is proleptic. Previously Lee had envisaged Gaither’s wife as probably dowdy, plump and clad in plaid skirts and support hose, but when he meets her there is a brisk reassessment. Aileen is sharteringly beautiful, completely bored, an makes not the slightest attempt to look at all interested in the event or in Lee. Lee is plainly pole-axed. The landscape suddenly looks to him less penitential and more like “a rumpled bedsheet” (22). He is so intent on Aileen that Ruth has to tell him that he can get out. “The car’s stopped” (23). The reader sees clearly that Lee’s is no pre-processed subjectivity. The backdrop of oversocialised evangelical platitudes contrasts with the directness of the couple s exchanges. Given that her husband travels every Sunday to services at a church some 90 minutes away, the timing of Aileen’s invitation to Lee to come over for coffee (Sunday morning at nine-thirty) tells him all he needs to know. The description of their fevered coupling (leaving slime, faXwE Iappears ro under- tor Aileen, »ho fevers'' .N"Ure’ has a surprise for Aileen, who discovers that she is already pregnant with Gaither’s child and reverts to convention, ending the affair. Even wilder spring weather then erupts, bringing three feet of spring snow, bating the burZ— resonance magistcally show has a clear connection to political violence, as the novel moves to Lee’s ongmal encounter with Donald Whi e- head, which occurs in a markedly hterary context. Whitehead stops to talk to Lee, because he sees that Lee is reading Supring Snote, by the Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima. As a romantic writer and anti-leftist revolutionary Mishima is probably the most obvious modern exampie of the writer as would-be revolutionary. His attempt to stage a nationalist coup in 1970 failed and was immediately followed by his public suicide by seppuku.

In contrast to Romantic notions of wild nature, the campus setting is established as impersonal and mechanised. Lee’s office had originally been in a natural setting with floor to ceiling windows so that grass appeared to grow right up to the pane. The new facility is constructed around an enormous computer centre, with an enclosed atrium full of leaf-shedding, shivering ficus trees under arctic fluorescents. Access to this anti-human edifice involves swipe card technology; Lee is frequently lost or excluded. The only view of the trees outside is through an elevated octagonal window which appears to him to frame their limbs “frozen in postures of horror” (39). Lee, however, has a coping strategy. He had previously noted that despite the many painful memories which the town holds for him their effect is mitigated by the fact that each place in the town is variously overlaid with so many different memories, in a “palimpsest world” (38), like a manuscript where traces of past writing have been only partially erased, and can be glimpsed below the overwritten surface. Writing is never quite erased. Similarly Lee hangs onto his Montblanc on the grounds that ink keeps one’s errors on record. The youth and the modern technology of the office building is unhelpful. “Not enough had transpired here for the palimpsest theory to work” (39). As a result, for many of his colleagues the bomb has blown a permanent hole in their sense of the place. Lee, however, uses memory against memory, overlaying the bombing with his past and with a more complicated narrative, generating other meanings from the interplay of narrative spaces.

A subtext runs though the novel in which vapid or pre-processed messages contrast with the expression of authentic emotions. Back at home after the bombing, Lee finds on the answerphone only stock messages from old colleagues long forgotten, or neighbours whom he hardly knmvs, t eir tone of concerned inquiry a mask for nosiness or schadenfreu e. ere is no message from his daughter Esther. Esther has opted out o t e soc^ world and into nature, as an environmental volunteer e ping to ee ea chicks, endangered because for some unknown reason t e pate• cannot care for them. Her .dendfiearion with these abandonedI offspring suggests a commitment to nature as a retreat tom had been instrumental in the loss of Aileen’s son. Lee recognises that most of her ' m the oss . _ f0 f d ofi any substantial messages were essentia I . |jngcr5_can there be a true message fOr emotional exchange. I qmachines? The exception is a ca]i £ from a reaI hi he has t0 send more than message Fasano eoes bevond the social script and dominates the machine. When lee is transported hack in memory to Aileens account of the moment when she revealed their affair to her husband, the emphasis on empty adherence ro social scripts is continued. Tulips again link the scene to Lee’s present. Aileen had been a keen gardener, finding that gardening returned to her some measure of the self-control and independence which her marriage had destroyed. Blooming in her pregnancy, an image of natural creativity she steps into her garden, sees the castrated stalks where her husband has cut off the flowered tulips’ stems and leaves, and realises at once that she must leave him. The resolution is strengthened when Gaither insists on a visit to his parents, who had previously ignored Aileen completely. Throughout their marriage Gaither had maintained a dumb show of family devotion, sending his parents platitudinous letters and generally receiving only the occasional seasonal card with a pre-printed message in return. When Aileen reveals her adultery Gaither slaps her hard into the wall. Aileen’s reaction mirrors that of Lee to the bomb blast: “Good, she thought. Good, it’s real” (63). Like Lee’s relation to Hendley, Aileen’s relationship to her husband suddenly appears in its true colours, unmediated by conventional morality or public appearance Part One of the novel ends with Lee’s memory of this event, presented as an ‘alternate’“big bang”, creative rather than destructive. Lee recalls how he had felt that as Aileen spoke he saw “clouds of dust whirling in space, asteroids coalescing, the hot lump of a planet accreting more mass. The unthinkable force of Creation” (54). Just as memories of Aileen’s pregnancy run in parallel to the process of Hendley’s dying, so the creative force pulling things together runs in dynamic tension with the force of the bomb blast which tore things apart. The layered narration, memories overlaying other memories and the present, offers a palimpsestic remedy against the terrorist’s power to alter place forever.

In order to complete the process of revising the Romantic notion of nature, the novel moves from the Romantic to the Gothic register. Fleeing from the grief-fest, Lee enters Mashtamowtahpa Park, named for a pre- Columbian people, and makes his way to the Wagon Wheel restaurant, a western-themed bar, made of weathered boards like a cabin, and featuring an old brand of beer (“Black Label”) served not in the modern can but in the old-fashioned brown bottle. Lee’s engagement with his past is however in no sense the same as the Unabomber’s primitivism, nor does Choi endorse "0S‘Jla’ The setting emphasises the obsolescence of earlier technology howthe?511 ? ° 1 at dLC'tne °n a Previous|y thriving economy. Lee notes how the freight trains which once criss-crossed the town, and which for him symbolised the grandeur of America, have gone. In the past the park had a miniature freight train ride for children which Esther had adored, but now the location in the Rust Belt means that most of the town’s youth have also departed and the part o the park which once houX" ’ 1°,“? have a>- ies has also gone its tall pines replaced by kliee I ok chlldren’s a«ivi- registers it as a “diminished landscape” (92) Imol’• ? Astroturf- Lee that abandoning modern technology would not restnr Y’ SCene su86«ts turn it into an economic and human graveyard Far S°C'7t0 health but ic location, the bar suggests a visit to the UnderwoX enn8 a nostab little impression on the interior darkness (931 tk ■' Ulm can<dles make 1 a chill. The Gehle sub,ex, is reinloreedwh "'V' he is accosted by a vision of his dead wife “raised hetlthv" ‘a h°rror the grave” (94). With a start he realises that the uncan Y y°Ung from Hendley’s girlfriend Rachel who bears a resemblance toaZ'r Tl 'Y accompanied by two more ghosts” (95), a severely mPl "'.Racbel ls woman clad entirely in black and a man dressed in “fake luiX VT8 gear who seems also to resemble Hendley. “Wild nature” th "k • woods so evocative of the Unabomber--is not mZ^achrnn"“ J* a place of death On leaving the restaurant Lee opens his mail, only to find his letter to Gaither returned to sender. Gaither, unknown to him, has been dead for 12 years. Lee has been trying to communicate with the dead.

In a second excursus into nature Lee makes an early morning visit to the state park. In this particular park the convention is to ignore other loggers leaving each other to fragile illusions of wilderness” (152) Alone Lee feels for a moment as if in “an actual Eden” (152). The scene is remarkable for its absence of technology, of electrical wires (152) and at this early hour, of any aeroplanes. When he returns home to mow his lawn, however he encounters the machine with a vengeance. As he is mowing he notes a neighbour’s toddler escaping from control and his mind moves, prompted by the handle of the mower, to the years he spent pushing Esther in her stroller, a happy and well-respected father in a harmonious small community. Suddenly he comes back to earth at a terrible noise, the handle leaping from his hands. For a moment he is in both past and present. “There was a double instant, Esther’s small compact weight torn from him. He was practically fainting on top of the mower” (164). In fact he has merely been stopped by a piece of wood, a branch which he has run over, and which almost flings him onto the blades. It is as if wood blew Esther up and out of his arms. The lawn mower had been bought to mow the lawn at the house to which Lee had insisted on moving, after a neighbour’s dog had bitten Esther. He suddenly remembers declaring that “The welfare of a child is more important than anything else.” To which Aileen had replied, I guess that depends on which child it is” (164). Now Lee realises that his previous happy state depended entirely on the absence of Aileens first child. To Lee, the abduction was “a miracle” (164) an unpleasant loose end from the past conveniently tied off. The symbolism here links the destructive branch, the potentially damaged child torn from the parent, Esther, Aileen’s son, technology and nature. Lee’s true feelings emerge, “Was he crying? . . . He felt a strange misery, very much like remorse, as if in running over the branch he had injured someone” (164). It is as if the Unabomber’s bomb (in the guise of wood) had finally reached Lee and revealed his errors. Over-laying one memory in the palimpsest may restore Lee to a precarious balance, but other memories also come up violently through the surface. The lawn mower is now a rusted, gasping contraption with a “deathbed repettoire” of labored drones, scummed with the “dead sod of ages” (160). Death haunts the scene, already emblematic in its image of grass cut and withered, as Choi runs a gothic subtext under the surface of pastoral and Arcadian images.

Now Lee remembers the events leading to the loss of Aileen’s son. Aileen has not performed the role of “fit mother” with enough zeal and lost her son because she admitted committing adultery. A divorce court would have tried her wanting on those grounds alone. She was under-, not oversocialized, not nearly conventional enough. In the present Lee goes through what Aileen did and learns what it is to be unable to perform one’s innocence appropriately. In the past Lee had not helped Aileen. His comment on the moment when Aileen discovered her son gone is chilling. “Lee had known then that the battle was won (132), because Aileen sobbed alone “She did not bring her grief to her husband. She had realized she shouldn’t” 1321. Her grief was already subject to careful policing. After the polygraph test the two stories of past and present come together. The memoir of Esther had been triggered by the sight of a young mother, a neighbour, chasing after her toddler. Now that mother reappears on his doorstep, threatening him not to go near her two young children (217). It is as if Aileen, who also had two children, but never caught up with one of them, had reappeared from the dead to confront him. Guilt returns to haunt him. and he finally faces up to the deceptions of his past.

When a second letter arrives, enclosing a page of his thesis, Lee checks the library copy and finds the Bomber’s contact details in place of the missing page. An apparently impersonal communication—a page of mathematical symbols—carries the most personal of messages, a message which only Lee can read. What might appear to the uninitiated as a letter entirely devoid of personal emotion triggers a memory of his happiness with Aileen. Lee remembers Aileen laboriously typing each page of symbols three times, the thesis growing along with her pregnancy, and he links together her terrible mechanical toil with memories of their past happiness, in a period of shared creativity. Anyone seeing the page of thesis would see only abstract impersonal symbols, but to Lee it opens out an entire past chapter of his life.

At this point in the novel the balance shifts decisively between narrative persons of interest with a major change of narrative focalisation. Part Three suddenly introduces a new character, through whom the story is refocalised, in third person narration, Gather’s son John, now rechristened Mark. Writing may itself be considered as a form of technology, manipulating readers’ responses. Choi therefore takes care to interrupt the process and defamiliarise the characters the characters and their perspectives, forcibly reminding us that we are reading a book, a work of imagination. As she said,

just when Mark discovers that everything he’s ever been familiar with everything he’s ever believed about himself, is false, that he doesn’t even know who he is the reader is subjected to the same experience. Everything the reader has come to be familiar with about the book—Lee’s consciousness, Lee s perspective, is swept away in a stroke. The reader has to start fresh like Mark, and has to start fresh with Mark.[34]

The stable ground of narration is swept away from under the reader’s feet and we have to reconstruct the story of Mark’s life, just as he does himself from hints and clues. Choi deliberately leads us astray, creating a red herring in which Mark seems to be a candidate for the role of bomber, Mark functions as an entirely innocent double to the Unabomber. Like the Unabomber he follows a life of careerless subsistence survival (251), living free of most technology in a small cabin in the mountains. He has a vexed history (drugs, a short term in prison), his disturbed youth implicitly the result of his disrupted background, “angry at he knew not what” (248). Like the Unabomber he has a warm relationship with the town librarian, who keeps him supplied with books. He also finds salvation in wild nature, hiking in solitude. Walking is a key clue. The alert reader will already have noted Esther’s baby shoes in Lee’s desk, his memories of her walking at fourteen months and his neighbour’s toddler also walking for the first time at the same age—and running away from his mother. Mark’s memory of making a similar dash for freedom, supposedly at ten months, is clearly wrongly-dated. Mark also shares the bomber’s impatience with socialised creeds. His rejection of religion is the result of the demand that he share his feelings with others and put his innermost self on display (272). The basis of his close friendship with Gene, another hiker, is that Gene never expects to be repaid in disclosures, and self-revelations (272). But reticence can go too far. When Mark discovers that Gene has two children whom he has never mentioned, he feels an inexplicable sense of betrayal. Aileen also had two children and the reader knows that Aileen and Lee never mentioned her son. Mark’s sense of betrayal is the product of buried memories. Where Lee is too self-centred (and grammatically focalised as such) Mark leads an impersonal existence, hardly aware of his true self at all. Choi said in interview that she introduced Mark to give a sense of someone looking at Lee as opposed to the relentless self-scrutiny of the latter.’[35] Mark is himself like a third person narrator, coolly observing events. His major pastime is photography: “he wanted to formalize memory” (258), a desire presumably connected to the absence of proofs of his own identity and past, which is slowly dawning on him. Mark gives the impression of someone who is always at a distance, always behind the camera, rather than in its focus, as Lee has been. When Mark sees a photo of Lee, for example, he immediately notes that he looks suspicious, his eyes concealed under a hat, and under, stands the motives of the unseen photographer (265). In bringing the lost child and the terrorist together in this fashion as doubles Cho. also brings Lee into sharper focus. Where Lee willingly fled home and family, to a new life in America, Mark has had exile and a change of identity thrust upon him. Mark would fit the profile of the bomber much better than Lee—he is solitary. alienated from society, and might reasonably be expected to bear a grudge. But it is Lee who has been scrutinised as a possible suspect. Where the Unabomber treated his victims as one-dimensional characters, embodying one idea. Choi allows characters to be porous, sharing aspects in an ambiguous fashion, engineering a slew of reciprocity. In interview Choi argued that it was important to grasp the recognizable, human motives driving monstrous behaviour.

We have to acknowledge the continuities between ourselves and these so-called monsters or we’ll never understand or ameliorate that kind of behaviour.[36]

Writing off the 9/11 hijackers as monsters was a mistake, in her view, since demonization was likely to create more of them In A Person of Interest characters shadow and double each other, establishing common continuities, and the reader reads one character through knowledge of another. Characters offer parallels and strike variations on each other: Rachel and Aileen. Mark and Whitehead, Lee and Whitehead, Esther and Mark. Lee cannot understand, for example, why Aileen, dying, tolerated the presence of Esther’s band of delinquent, misfit teenagers, whereas the reader sees that this “circle of waifs” (301) is some sort of compensation, in numbers at least, for the absence of one particular motherless, delinquent child, her son. Doubling has a reparative function, assuaging loss.

Importantly, Mark finds out the truth of his past not only by walking and thinking about walking, but also by narrating while walking, finding a stable ground for his identity in narration. His realisation that the story of his past is completely unreliable takes place in an environment quite foreign to the various Christian Missionary posts in which he spent his youth, a grove in the wood, described as an arcade or mosque of old trees, their base "a verdant prayer rug”, the overall impression that of a temple (2 - 3). The clearing appears to him to mingle past with present. The altitude means that the mountain laurel (faded at lower altitudes) is now in bloom, as if Mark had gone back in time to May when it bloomed originally (261). f ark realises that he is in full emotional crisis and solves his problem by narration. He addresses the story of the mysterious last few weeks—the doubts about his identity, the police visit questioning his knowledge of his childhood, the discovery that his father knew Lee—to the long-dead Gene.

Like Lee with his lawn mower/stroller Mark is now in two places at once, two times at once, with Gene both before him and lost to him.” (276). Gene does not solve the conundrum: he merely says (in Mark’s imagination) parents are mysteries to their children. The point is not that Gene is d ort of spirit guide but that the process of narration finally produces out of events, making things hang together rather than blowing them apart. Climactically Mark is led to recall a childhood memory of an them between Ruth and her mother, who cries out, revealingly “And what about his mother?” (278).

And what about Mark’s mother? At the close of the novel Lee re-reads Aileen’s letter. Aileen begins composing the letter in her mind from the moment she goes into labour, and notes that everything that happens in the next few weeks “had been slightly dilated by the echo of her internal narration” (115). The letter is a form of creative writing which accompanies the birth of John. It is important to note the word “dilated”: events have been expanded and made more meaningful by her own internal account of them as they are occurring. She is in a sense experiencing them as if they were simultaneously being narrated. “Dilate” suggests both anatomical expansion (here, the cervix) and the verbal. To dilate on a topic is to speak at expand, flesh out the details. When Aileen actually comes to write, he writes with great speed, “as if simply transcribing something already printed” (115). The text has already been fully created in her mind. Lee, however originally receives the letter at a point when he thinks they have separated forever and he reads it with unease. As an uncensored transcript of her most private thoughts, it looks like a diary; he has to flip back to be sure that it is addressed to him (124). It is so entirely a first person account that it seems as if Aileen is talking to herself—yet she clearly assumes that he is the ideal reader. Lee shuts it away in his desk. Yet he keeps the letter, and is deeply moved when the FBI give it back to him. Agent Morrison confiscates it as evidence but then decides that it is unimportant (340). But of course the letter is massively important. Lee realises now that it is a “slow revelation.” He had never read it properly before: “he’d only glared fearfully at the words through a mesh of defences” (352). Now he falls into a trance of enjoyment, reading and re-reading. And the reader shares this experience with Lee, reading passages over his shoulder the description of her son’s eyelid, and her belief in the importance of writing down these experiences which otherwise her son will never know. The letter is an education in reading, restoring Aileen’s unsocialised private self to Lee. It conveyed her to him, thoroughly, without any constraint (352). At the close of the novel Lee passes it to another reader, her son, and restores is mother to him. This is a letter which is all about freedom and creativity—Aileen’s son, new to this world, something she has created—and creative the free, unregulated expression of her thoughts, writing which is identified with the power to create, not to destroy. In the succession of readers (Aileen to Lee to Mark to the reader of the novel) Choi creates a small community deeply engaged with creative “letters” (with literature in modern parlance) rejecting the idea that literature cannot act as a counterweight to the messages of the destructive terrorist, or the pre-processed mechanical utterances of the oversocialised.