The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Leonard Cohen’s novel is a study of four characters, the “beautiful losers.” Their questionable beauty and their status as losers provide the substance of the novel. In their intensive quests for physical and spiritual beauty, they are representative of all human aspiration.

It is the narrator’s tortured mind, spirit, and body that are revealed in the unraveling and the raveling of the plot in book 1. While first-person narrative is by its nature limited, it is the limitations themselves that are the subject of the narrative. The narrator is all too aware of his shortcomings, and book 2 confirms and adds to the idea of these. He is physically and intellectually inhibited: He is constipated, and, though he does not know it, he has been in all ways manipulated by his closest friend. His spiritual longings and his ability to ejaculate, however, are unlimited. (He, literally, and his pages, figuratively, are covered in semen.)

The narrator’s anonymity and his refusal to name the tribe he studies in order to save them the humiliation of association with him are evidence of the narrator’s self-deprecation. While his frequent discussions of the condition of his bowels is in keeping with his self-deprecatory manner, his constant discussion of his sexuality remains more ambiguous.

Longing is the essence of the narrator’s being. He longs for physical and spiritual union with F., his friend and physical mate from boyhood. He...

(The entire section is 468 words.)