(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Mobile: Study for the Representation of the United States has fifty chapters, and each chapter is more or less devoted to a different state, in alphabetical order, of the United States. The novel does not tell a story or relate a sequence of events. Instead, the disjointed details, mostly about small-town America, consist of information usually found in history books, atlases, encyclopedias, tourist brochures, and Howard Johnson menus. Some continuity is provided by a series of repetitions which are designed to illustrate the scope and diversity of the United States. For example, the first chapter is entitled “pitch dark in CORDOVA, ALABAMA, the Deep South” and that is all. The first word is not capitalized, nor is there a period at the end. The second chapter reads “pitch dark in CORDOVA, ALASKA, the Far North” and continues with a brief, nightmarish description of the land around Cordova. With no apparent connection, the book next lists Douglas, a small town near Juneau, Alaska. The third chapter begins “pitch dark in DOUGLAS, Mountain Time, ARIZONA, the Far West.” Running through the entire book is a seemingly endless catalog of tiny towns whose names are repeated in state after state. For example, there is Concord, California; Concord, North Carolina; Concord, Georgia; and Concord, Florida. Interestingly, Concord, Massachusetts, a town of great importance to both American history and American literature, is omitted.

Nevertheless, there are a number of linking devices. Each of the fifty chapters has the name of a different state, in alphabetical order from Alabama through Wyoming. Twenty-six chapters begin with “WELCOME TO” and end with the name of a state. The first of the twenty-six is entitled “WELCOME TO NORTH CAROLINA,” which would be alphabetized as “Carolina, North” in French. The chapter on North Carolina, however, is almost equally divided between lists of doves, cuckoos, conchs, clams, rivers, and mountains which the narrator places in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia, as well as in North Carolina. There is no apparent...

(The entire section is 853 words.)