The Accident (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
David Plante’s The Accident is an intense character study of its unnamed protagonist, whom the novel follows in and out of a grave spiritual crisis and whose American friends and acquaintances all represent different answers to the twin challenges of how he should lead his life and what he should believe in. Because of this focus on the central character, which his creator further strengthens by making him a highly subjective and at times very unreliable narrator, the novel’s success depends entirely on the reader’s accepting the idea that the protagonist’s crisis represents an authentic and important inner conflict.
After the problematic, almost overwritten first few pages, The Accident moves on to an intimate portrayal of its protagonist’s relationships with several young Americans who, in addition to serving as foils, are marked by their own personal struggles at a European Catholic university in 1959.
The task of re-creating this time and recapturing its mood, together with its particular tearing conflicts, without appearing merely to dig up past issues is a formidable challenge. Aided by his own experience—Plante himself spent the academic year 1959-1960 in Louvain—the author moves carefully through a territory in which the philosophical questions raised by the (French) existentialists were fresh and pressing and where taking the Lord’s name in vain was a serious profanity. At the same time, however, the...
(The entire section is 1709 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
The Accident (Magill Book Reviews)
Carried by David Plante’s keen psychological interest in the details of his characters’ inner lives, THE ACCIDENT demonstrates his ability to tell a tightly crafted story in which every element counts toward the eventual revelation. Building on his own experience of studying abroad at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium in the fall of 1959, Plante presents an unnamed narrator who, thrust in to the same situation, desperately tries to come to terms with the intellectual challenge his life represents to him.
THE ACCIDENT develops its theme of spiritual quest primarily through its narrator’s interactions with a small group of fellow American students, each of whom represents a different alternative to the questions consuming the narrator: the self-conscious poser Vincent Vosac; the compassionate believer Tom Donlon; and the blunt, rebellious Karen Larvens. Their fates are inextricably meshed with the narrator’s when their rented car crashes en route to Spain, a place of magical attraction for the protagonist.
With Tom the only casualty, and Vincent symbolically punished for his reckless driving with a prolonged hospital stay, the narrator is shocked into a sudden awareness of both the beauty and the transitory nature of life, a new awareness he shares with the similarly jolted Karen. It is now that the reader discovers that Plante has cleverly hidden his highly symbolic and profoundly moral message behind the narrator’s...
(The entire section is 335 words.)