One D.O.A., One on the Way

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 1)

Mary Robison’s One D.O.A., One on the Way is told primarily from the first-person perspective of the ironically named Eve, a fortyish location scout for the New Orleans film industry who lives in a decidedly non-Edenic world. The novel combines narrative, interior monologue, diary entries, and fact lists to create a kind of southern gothic pastiche of the many tragedies, both personal and cultural, in post-Katrina New Orleans. It is divided into chapters, which are then subdivided into a total of 225 subsections. This subsectioning technique, also used by Robison in her earlier novel Why Did I Ever (2001), initially creates a sense of constant disconnection in the plotting of the text.

The narration of Eve’s movements and reactions is choppy, interspersed with seemingly digressive bits of information about random things she notices, items her kleptomaniac niece Collie steals, and fact lists, some of them about the situation in New Orleans since Katrina. For example, in one section titled “Community Service,” Robison includes a bulleted list of seven facts about drainage issues in New Orleans. (According to Robison’s “Author’s Note,” she has “not knowingly made statements about New Orleans that are incorrect.”) This section is juxtaposed with two small subsections about the beginning of Eve’s affair with Saunders, perhaps as a kind of ironic commentary on the narrative.

In another example of what at first appears dissociative, several of the subsections consist of lists about the different types of holsters used for carrying various concealed weapons. Though Eve does not carry a gun or discuss carrying a gun, these lists that read as though they were diary entries hint at a violence that does not occur until the end of the novel. Thus, the sections of jumpy, short narrative are purposefully positioned next to other observations and facts to create ironic associations that help constitute both the humor and the pathos of the book. Robison, often discussed critically as a minimalist, employs that quality of her work here, saying more with less and inviting readers to make connections between what at first might seem to be disparate subjects. The text that forms from these associations constitutes a novel that is more than just a narrative: It also serves as a kind of exposé of post-Katrina New Orleans.

Eve’s story, the narrative part of the novel, is split between scenes with her intern (whom she calls Lucien through much of the text, only to learn that his real name is Paul) and scenes with her family members. Her conversations with Paul help illustrate Eve’s work since one of her professed goals is to explain her work to him. Her moments with her family address issues of her emotional life. The narrative arc of Eve’s life is interrupted in the middle of the text, when Eve inexplicably begins an affair with Saunders, her husband’s alcoholic twin brother. This affair is further complicated when Saunders’s wife Petal pulls a gun on him in the car after they leave a restaurant.

In order to keep Petal from harming Saunders, Eve convinces her to commit herself to a mental hospital. Though readers never quite understand Petal’s reason for wanting to shoot her husband or how she obtained the gun, Robison uses her stay at the mental hospital to portray the problems with health care in New Orleans. Petal becomes trapped in the hospital, despite the fact that she committed herself voluntarily, because the hospital stands to make money by keeping her there. Her daughter Collie is a kleptomaniac, and many of the subsections of the novel consist of lists of things that Collie has stolen from Eve. Details of Collie’s relationship to her family are never made clear, nor is where she stays after her mother enters the hospital. Both Petal and Collie remain underdeveloped as characters, remaining comic caricatures because of their unexplained, bizarre behavior.

Robison’s minimalist technique can be seen in a lack of development of other characters as well. Frequently, characters are identified by their quirks, these quirks serving as shorthand devices for conveying larger themes of the novel. Saunders, as the lovable drunken twin, is described by the expensive clothes he wears, the many destructions caused by his drunken stumbling, and the nonchalant manner in which he hands over a hundred-dollar bill. His brother Adam, described as critically ill from hepatitis C, has taken to his sickbed at his parents’ house. Adam’s parents feed and clothe him and even pay for him to be moved to the top of a waiting list for a liver transplant.

The twins are disconnected...

(The entire section is 1906 words.)

One D.O.A., One on the Way Bibliography

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 1)

Booklist 105, no. 11 (February 1, 2009): 28.

Kirkus Reviews 76, no. 24 (December 15, 2008): 1275.

The New York Times Book Review, March 22, 2009, p. 13.

The New Yorker 85, no. 10 (April 20, 2009): 113.

Publishers Weekly 255, no. 50 (December 15, 2008): 33-34.

The Times Literary Supplement, May 8, 2009, p. 21.