In his fictions, Donald Newlove attempts to delineate two dimensions of reality/illusion: insanity and alcoholism. In his first novel, The Painter Gabriel (1970), Newlove explored madness; in Leo and Theodore (1972), alcoholism. In Curranne Trueheart, Newlove brings the two states together, emphasizing their symbolic relationship in an initial paragraph whose implications reverberate throughout the novel: “What could be more hopeless than a madwoman marrying a drunk? But cities have always been full of crazy people and alcoholics who marry. That lasting love can grow from such a union—such a fearful matching of cracks—is a miracle.”
The madwoman is Curranne, born Garrity, whose name changes five times and whose habitats at least as many. The one constant in her life seems to be intermittent commitments to mental hospitals and lengthy psychoanalyses by psychiatrists who are clearly never as intelligent as she. Though Curranne desires sanity with every spiritual fiber of her being, a moral fiber interferes. She is constitutionally unable to make distinctions between two ontological positions: She is unable to accept lies or to accommodate herself to half-truths or to confuse the banal with the fresh, the prosaic and trite with the authentic, the misguided with the categorically true. Nor can she make clear distinctions between “fact” and “fiction,” “truth” and “illusion,” the “literal” and the “metaphoric,” and “inner” and “outer reality.”
Curranne’s inability to confuse the sententious with the discriminatory works positively for her husband, Jack, making it possible for her to guide him to a better understanding of the world around him, and with her help, he is able to make the necessary adjustments to living that life apparently calls for. Because of Curranne, Jack, a recovered alcoholic, becomes a writer capable of accepting love and of expressing incontrovertible joy and grief. In Jack’s memories, Curranne miraculously continues to live. Nevertheless, for Curranne, her inability to distinguish between her hallucinatory and waking worlds, between the symbolic and the prosaic, between the metaphoric and the literal is a negative, the cause of her schizophrenia, her extreme pain, and her eventual suicide.
When Jack first meets Curranne in the library, he is thirty years old; he has spent eleven years in the marines and four in the air force. His marriage of less than two years, which produced one child, has ended in annulment because of his failure to provide. Desiring to be a writer, he returns to his home in King James, moves back into his mother’s house, and gets a job on a local newspaper. He knows that his writing problems and his inability to make lasting relationships with people are the result of his own powers of perception. After he meets Curranne, he is serious in thinking that he can help her, but “it takes titanic labor for me to get skin-deep even in my writing—my power of character analysis is more Stan Laurel than D. H. Lawrence. I can’t take it in, much less make it up. People pass right through me.” When Curranne first reads a sample of Jack’s writing, she zips through three pages in thirty seconds and is direct, even brutal, in her comments to him. His writing, she tells him, is not authentic; it is “strawberry-flavored baloney. . . . No attack, all marshmallow.” In the same way, she attacks him for his...
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