by Jean Echenoz

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 495

If Cherokee is an imitation of life, then life itself is ruled by chance, not by design. Individuals pursue their own happiness, whether it seems to lie in the acquisition of money or in the fulfillment of love. Inevitably, they use one another, deceive one another, and intentionally or unintentionally interfere with one another’s plans. Farcically, they tumble in and out of one another’s lives, and although it might seem that the reunion of George with Jenny at the end of the book is the conventional, providential happy ending, the fact that George’s cousin and old enemy Fred is driving the car does not promise a serene future.

Cherokee is also, however, a spoof of the traditional detective novel, or perhaps, more accurately, a realistic rendering of real-life flight and capture. One of the most clever themes in the novel centers on the numerous cars which are inevitably present in a contemporary thriller. They are not equipped, however, like James Bond’s cars; they do not even work. Periodically, George visits his car, which is terminally ill in the repair shop, and rents worse and worse models. As the tempo of the novel quickens, the cars worsen. George’s rented Opel, which has an ear-deafening motor and bad brakes, barely makes it to his hideaway. His mistress’ kidnappers have to push their Talbot to get it started. When he pursues them, George is betrayed by the Opel, which loses its oil, forcing him into a car with strangers, who turn out to be kidnapping him. If cars are as unreliable as people, life itself is symbolized by the travels of the French police, who spend most of their time in their car on the beltways around Paris, circling the city and missing their targets as certainly as they miss the truth, which, circling, they sometimes approach.

Finally, like the usual detective novel, Cherokee involves flight and pursuit. In the customary pattern, a detective pursues a criminal, whom he unmasks at the end of the story. This story is more like real life, since everyone seems to be both fleeing and pursuing—fleeing from those who threaten them, while pursuing money, love, or some other goal which may well be un-obtainable or illusory. It is significant that at one point in the story George wonders why he instinctively runs away, even when he is not aware of being in danger. George does not have the answer; the reader, however, knows that George is always in danger.

Comically exaggerated though the novel may be in its insistence on life as a badly executed series of pursuits of the unworthy or unsatisfying and flights from the unavoidable or unthreatening, it seems to suggest that such is reality. The detective story genre from which Cherokee was derived may have been far more illusory, presenting life as a puzzle which a good and rational person must, from time to time, solve, in order to set things right.

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