Falconer is a one-hundred-year-old state prison where Ezekiel Farragut, a professor guilty of fratricide while under the influence of “dangerous drugs,” is being incarcerated for “zip to ten” years. He is addicted to heroin but is currently maintained on methadone.
Ezekiel’s first visitor is his wife, Marcia, but their marriage is very bitter, with Ezekiel mostly acquiescent in the verbal battles. Peter, his son, does not come to see him at any time during the novel. Some of Marcia and Ezekiel’s hostility emerged most notably when he once found her embracing and kissing Sally Midland. As the novel progresses, however, it is clear that Ezekiel’s own homosexuality has been promiscuous and long-standing.
Eben Farragut, Ezekiel’s brother, one is led to suspect, once pushed him out a window, intending to have him fall upon some spear-pointed fence posts, but Ezekiel landed on his knees on the pavement, injuring them so that in prison he claims that an attack by one of the guards has left him crippled. Ezekiel is made into a cruel sideshow by the officers, who want to watch him go through unaided drug withdrawal, and he considers suing for medical mistreatment. The chapter closes with Ezekiel writing letters of complaint to his governor, his bishop, and the “girl he had lived with for two months when Marcia had abdicated and moved to Carmel.”
Pivotal to the plot is Ezekiel’s sexual affair with the highly intelligent Jody, who cleverly decides to forgo his diploma from the Fiduciary University of Banking as it comes into Falconer. When a cardinal comes in a helicopter to award Fiduciary U. diplomas and to offer Holy Communion to a select twenty-five of the prisoners, Jody escapes among the acolytes. Once outside, he is caught by the cardinal in a blatant lie—that he is from “St. Anselm’s,” a place not in the diocese. Then, apparently, Jody has fifteen to twenty minutes of sexual bribery with the cardinal, who allows him to escape, a free man on the city streets as a result of daring intelligence and sexual attractiveness.
When a riot occurs at The Wall, an upstate prison in Amana, the Falconer administration promptly shuts down radios and televisions in order to divert its own prisoners’ discontents. In the month of August, each man has his picture made with a Christmas tree for photographs to be sent to the prisoners’ family and friends. Ezekiel’s cell-mate, Chicken, is unable to send to anyone except Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, impressing Ezekiel again with their lonely plights: “No one at all laughed at this hieroglyph of pain.”
In frustration, Chicken tries to start a riot at Falconer by burning his mattress and calling for everyone not to sleep. The fire is watered down, and Ezekiel falls asleep as usual. Glass Ear, a convict with a hearing aid, for a moment becomes the target of Ezekiel’s efforts to build a radio for news about The Wall, where twenty-eight prison officers are held hostage. Cut off from current news, to pass the time the men in Falconer play cards, masturbate, or smoke marijuana with equal inconsequence. The final assault on the Amana prison leaves at least fifty dead and fifty more dying.
When Chicken becomes fatally ill, Ezekiel aspires to freedom, as though the decay and demise of one man has spurred him to more vigorous pursuit of his own interests. He discovers that he is cured of his drug dependency, his methadone treatments having been surreptitiously turned to placebos a month earlier, news that gives him hope that he might thrive again outside.
Late in the novel it is revealed that the murdered brother had cruelly and petulantly blurted out that Ezekiel’s father had wanted to kill him in the womb, to force Ezekiel’s mother to have an abortion. Despite Ezekiel’s apparently pathological conviction that he was an accidental killer, Eben’s wife, Carrie, reports that he struck Eben eighteen to twenty times with a fire iron, a report confirmed by the examining doctor.
(The entire section is 1,659 words.)