Bob Slocum is a character who uses dreams and memories, which make up a substantial portion of the novel, as part of his ongoing struggle to determine the key event, the “something” that “happened” to him, to cause him to be the man he is. Very early in the book, he thinks, “Something did happen to me somewhere that robbed me of confidence and left me with a fear of discovery and change and a positive dread of everything unknown that may occur. I dislike anything unexpected.” Because life is unpredictable and the unexpected happens daily, Slocum has come to dislike his life, but because death and change are also unpredictable and unexpected, even those alternatives provide no hopeful option for him.
Bob Slocum is a character suffering what pop psychologists would call a midlife crisis. The outer circumstances of his life change very little during the first three-fourths of the novel, but within his mind he contemplates changes in almost every area. He considers divorce. He contemplates how a proposed promotion might affect his life. He tries to face the necessity of institutionalizing his retarded child. Through dreams and memory, he even tries to re-create the happy and sad experiences of his growing-up years in search of a security that he feels he once had but which is now missing. He becomes particularly obsessed with the memory of a girl he knew when he was seventeen and working part-time for an insurance company. After many years of knowing that the girl, Virginia Markowitz, committed suicide while he was in the army, Slocum still clings to the hope represented by their innocent and unconsummated passion for each other.
Slocum’s exploration of his life is, in part, a struggle to establish a valid point of view from which to make the decisions he faces. At one point he asks himself, “Where is a frame of reference now for any of us that extends even the distance to the horizon, only eighteen miles away?” Although Slocum understands other people fairly well, he cannot translate that understanding and perception into actions or relationships. He remains trapped within his own mind, which he imagines oozing excess matter and ready to explode.
The relationship between Slocum and his wife is neither happy nor unhappy. He says that he has always wanted a divorce, even before he met his wife and married her. Yet he has not. He is regularly unfaithful with both whores...
(The entire section is 987 words.)