By the Shores of Gitchee Gumee Summary
by Tama Janowitz

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By the Shores of Gitchee Gumee

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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You know you are white trash if you are nineteen years old and still live at home, the home you live in is a trailer (not a very good one, at that), there is no common father among you and your four siblings, a social highlight is a visit by a vacuum cleaner salesman, and raising Mexican hairless dogs seems like a viable family business. Maud Slivenowicz is white trash.

Maud and her older sister, Marietta, dream of escaping their world, possibly through marriage. They each set their sights on Steve, a vacuum cleaner salesman who insists that he has the potential to make millions through a business deal. After discovering that the new neighbor is an English lord, Maud goes after him, in her own literally myopic manner (she drives his car largely by feel and complains of objects jumping out to crash into the car).

The family’s existence is further complicated by the unexpected appearance of Edward, the father of Leopold, the youngest sibling. The children soon discover that he is wanted by the police. He is soon arrested after a supposed hostage situation; in actuality, he and two others passed out from carbon monoxide inhalation.

Maud’s life takes a turn when the family’s house trailer slides off of its blocks and into a nearby lake. Several members take Theodore, Maud’s eighteen-year-old brother (an aspiring songwriter who composes in the style of Noel Coward), to the hospital for treatment of injuries; the others promise to meet them later, with an eventual plan of going to California to make a film career for Peter, the oldest sibling. While at the hospital, several of the family members visit Edward, who promptly takes Leopold hostage and thereby effects an escape. Maud, Peter, Leopold, and Edward take off in the family car. The family members soon escape from Edward and plan to make their way to California. Their adventures en route, taking advantage of various strangers, form the second part of the book.

Tama Janowitz again shows her ability to create fascinatingly bizarre characters; those in this book easily are a match for the maladjusted art set in her SLAVES OF NEW YORK (1986). She pokes fun at various lifestyles, sexual mores, and aspirations of socioeconomic improvement in this fast-paced, unpredictable romp.