Techniques / Literary Precedents

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Last Updated on May 20, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 304

One reason this ambitious novel does not quite succeed could be Settle's choice of the point of view. In order to bring together all the loose strands and provide a unifying focus, Settle centers the novel on Teresa, whose point of view predominates. The other characters have to tell their...

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One reason this ambitious novel does not quite succeed could be Settle's choice of the point of view. In order to bring together all the loose strands and provide a unifying focus, Settle centers the novel on Teresa, whose point of view predominates. The other characters have to tell their stories to and through her, usually bit by bit as they get to know her or overcome their initial reluctance. Their stories are thus distanced, and the effect of the novel is an overabundance of talk. Worse, the stories are filtered through the sensibility of Teresa, who seems to possess no special talent for being a confidante except good hearing and confusion about her own life (she has been seeing an ineffectual therapist, Dr. Dangle). Presumably Teresa clarifies things for herself in the novel, but nevertheless, instead of offering wisdom, her point of view seems self-indulgent, overly dramatic, and banal. In the novel's own terms, if she has crossed the river Styx, where are the results? The same might be said for the novel's whole collection of confused misfits, except for Father Pius Deng, who spreads some soothing balm and seems the only real candidate for the novel's center.

Settle's use of a distancing point of view and central intelligence recalls the work of Joseph Conrad, particularly Conrad's character/narrator Marlow. Marlow plays a prominent role in Conrad's Heart of Darkness (from which Father Deng learns his English) and narrates numerous other works, sometimes tediously. In addition, some of Conrad's characters are known to cross the Styx, though doing so does not necessarily qualify them to become members of an exclusive London social club. Settle's idea about those who have crossed the Styx recalls F. Scott Fitzgerald's idea about the rich, and Ernest Hemingway's idea about bullfighters: they are different people from the rest.

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