Dead Languages (Magill's Literary Annual 1990)
In David Shields’s second novel, Jeremy Zorn relates a picaresque narrative of his life, his adventures comprising a series of obsessions interspersed with failed relationships and capped with the death of his mother. What emerges from this seemingly loose array of anecdotes is a finely drawn Kunstlerroman, a portrait of the conditions that have spawned a young man who turns to writing to compensate for his incapacity to speak clearly.
Writing is only the last of “an endless series of obsessions, overwrought attempts to get beyond a voice that bothered me,” Jeremy says. He first becomes conscious of this bothersome voice as a preschooler, when his mother sits him down in their living room, not allowing him to go outside to play until he says “Philadelphia” without stammering. He fails the test. Hoping to show him that he can succeed at saying words without stuttering, his mother shows him some flashcards with pictures and tries to get Jeremy to play a game they have often enjoyed together—captioning the picture. Again Jeremy fails, unable to get beyond his fear of not succeeding. This failure instigates the “principal compensatory activities” —his obsessions—that consume Jeremy in his desire “either to vanish forever or to emerge triumphant.”
Mere triumph, however, does not change anything. As a first grader, he learns to pitch a softball so fast that no one in the school can hit it. His team, the First-Grade...
(The entire section is 1952 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1990)
The Boston Review. XIV, August, 1989, p.26.
Library Journal. CXIV, April 1, 1989, p.115.
Los Angeles Times Rook Review. June 25, 1989, p. 5.
The New York Review of Rooks. XXXVI, July 20, 1989, p.30.
The New York Times Rook Review. XCIV, June 18, 1989, p.22.
The New Yorker. LXV, July 3, 1989, p.95.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXV, March 10, 1989, p.74.
(The entire section is 47 words.)