(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Lookout Cartridge begins on Halloween, 1971, with Cartwright’s description of a ride in a damaged helicopter above New York City, where he observes below the sudden flash of an explosion. From these mysterious beginnings, Cartwright’s story of his experiences in the previous months as he searches for those who have destroyed his film unfolds. Through flashbacks and montage (indeed, Lookout Cartridge might be “read” as a film), Cartwright recounts the making of the film with his coauthor, Daggar DiGorro, speculates on the reasons for its destruction, and describes the labyrinthine entanglements of plots and personalities which have led him to the discovery of, possibly, an international political conspiracy that endangers his own life and that of his daughter. McElroy’s novel contains dozens of characters, scenes, and stories which seem to have been “cut together” by the narrator in a frustrating search for the logic and order behind seemingly unconnected appearances and events. Cartwright might be seen as a contemporary detective, except that his quest for the solution to the mystery is thwarted by the nature of the clues themselves, which are so multiple and ambiguous as to defy interpretation. As Thomas LeClair has suggested, Lookout Cartridge is a novel of excess. Readers of the novel (like the protagonist) are exposed to such a barrage of unassimilated information (one learns, for example, about the Mayan calendar, the origins of Stonehenge, Frederick Catherwood’s explorations in Central America, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s engineering feats, the structure of liquid crystals) that they are hard-pressed to discover the nature of the mystery, much less what its solutions might be. More than simply a parody of the detective novel, Lookout Cartridge questions the value and purpose of knowledge in a technological universe overexposed to information. Understanding the mystery behind Lookout Cartridge might well involve understanding the Daggar-Cartwright film, purportedly an...

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Lookout Cartridge Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Buckeye, Robert. “Lookout Cartridge: Plans, Maps, Programs, Designs, Outlines.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 10 (Spring, 1990): 119-126.

Campbell, Gregor. “Processing Lookout Cartridge.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 10 (Spring, 1990): 112-118.

Hantke, Steffen. “God Save Us from Bourgeois Adventure: The Figure of the Terrorist in Contemporary Fiction.” Studies in the Novel 28 (Summer, 1996): 219-243. An analysis of terrorists as portrayed in McElroy’s Lookout Cartridge and Don DeLillo’s Players and Mao II. Hantke notes that the image of the terrorist in the novel since World War II has shifted from Communist conspirator to religious fanatic, and the traits of the terrorist are not as monolithic as when Communism reigned.

Johnston, John. “ The Dimensionless Space Between’: Narrative Immanence in Joseph McElroy’s Lookout Cartridge.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 10 (Spring, 1990): 95-111. A discussion of the narrative technique in the novel.

O’Donnell, Patrick. “Engendering Paranoia in Contemporary Narrative.” Boundary 2 19 (Spring, 1992): 181-204. Examines a number of novels since the 1960s including Lookout Cartridge which share the common theme of paranoia.

Siemion, Piotr. “Chasing the Cartridge: On Translating McElroy.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 10 (Spring, 1990): 133-139.

Stonehill, Brian. “Intimations of Human Divinity in Joseph McElroy’s Lookout Cartridge.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 10 (Spring, 1990): 127-132.