M31 (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
Written in the teeth of the New Age, M31: A Family Romance is an incisive and disturbing satire of middle-class life-styles and family relations in contemporary America. The strange collection of personalities who inhabit an abandoned church in the middle of a cornfield is a chaotic parody of the nuclear family. The aptly named Dash and Dot, founders and prime movers of a society that believes that the family comes from and will return to a star in the Andromeda galaxy, roam across the United States in a battered Volkswagen, giving lectures and making guest appearances on local radio talk shows. When they infrequently return to the weathered church they call their temporary home on earth, they return to a domestic nightmare. Their eldest son, Dallas, is often high on one drug or another; their autistic daughter, Zoe, runs crazily through the house screaming nonsense at the top of her lungs; Edsel, the youngest son, disappears at every opportunity so that he can spend his life at a video arcade; and Trinity and Maryse, who act like sisters, though throughout the novel Maryse nurses the child she has borne by Dash, retreat to the homemade spaceship-become-womb, dubbed The Object. In short, home life for this contemporary American family is a kind of hellish alienation, which may explain their common, nostalgic yearning for a home among the stars.
Wright’s narrative proceeds in a deadpan fashion which perfectly contrasts the exotic aspirations of these believers in unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and distant inhabited planets with the brutality and tawdriness of their everyday lives on earth. M31 can be seen as an allegory of the contemporary domestic situation in the United States, where the fantasies induced by television, drugs, and cults of all kinds are in violent contrast with the demeaned actualities of mundane existence, where fantasy depends upon and springs from that banality. Faced with such a situation, it seems that one’s best hopes lie in the forms of delusion and nostalgia that lead to the romance of the stars and the visionary imagining of a more profound and meaningful life on remote planets.
The conflict that sets the plot in motion is provided by the arrival of Gwen and Beale, true believers in the gospel according to Dash and Dot. Their presence initiates a chain of events that will lead to the destruction and dissolution of this bizarre Unit (as the family refers to itself) in which shared isolation takes the place of intimacy. Both come to the house of Dash and Dot as pilgrims to a shrine (Gwen believes that she has been abducted by aliens). On this holy ground Gwen is raped by Dash and becomes Dallas’ lover, while Beale, stupidly enamored with the fake gadgetry of the house and the incredible fraudulence of Dash’s pronouncements, is either murdered by Dallas or commits suicide after a bloody fight with the hallucinating eldest son. Dallas hides Beale’s decaying body in the cellar. The family and Gwen cram themselves into the ancient Volkswagen and flee the state when the discovery of the body by the police seems imminent. In the novel’s final, surrealistic chapters, Dash attempts to kill Dallas in a murderous quarrel over Gwen, then flees with Zoe to Washington, D.C., where eventually he abandons his autistic daughter in a playground and, at least in his own mind, observes the descent of a spaceship from M31 to the roof of his hotel....
(The entire section is 1393 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
Booklist. LXXXIV, June 15, 1988, p. 1709.
Chicago Tribune. June 19, 1988, XIV, p. 7.
Kirkus Reviews. LVI, April 15, 1988, p. 572.
Library Journal. CXIII, August, 1988, p. 177.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 11, 1988, p. 9.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, July 17, 1988, p. 11.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIII, May 20, 1988, p. 67.
The Washington Post Book World. XVIII, July 24, 1988, p. 1.