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The Feud is perhaps Berger’s best example of what he has called “pure fiction”—relatively free of journalistic, sociological, and other thematic concerns. The novel’s deliberately complicated plot and large cast of characters serve primarily to support its stylistic concerns, which, more than anywhere else in Berger’s work, center on the way in which people manipulate language to justify outrageous behavior.

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The dispute between Depression-era families somewhere in middle America begins when Dolf Beeler goes to Bud Bullard’s hardware store for paint remover and, when he refuses to dispose of his unlit cigar, gets into an argument with Junior Bullard (Bud’s teenage son) and Reverton Kirby (Bud’s cousin). When the store burns down that night, Dolf is blamed. Bud, who has no insurance, then attempts suicide and later has a breakdown. Events soon escalate; Dolf’s car blows up, and Dolf bloodies the nose of kindly Walt Huff, Bud’s brother-in-law, before having a heart attack. The endless series of disasters in this comedy of errors is complicated by a misguided love affair between Dolf’s son and Bud’s daughter, making the novel a blend of the legendary Hatfield-McCoy feud and William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1595).

As usual, Berger’s characters are searching, blindly and ineptly, for freedom and self-respect and are hindered primarily by the foolish limitations they impose upon their perceptions of the world. The ironically named Rev considers himself a man of principles because of his faith in such beliefs as “Worship the Lord, but never trust a preacher any farther than you can throw him.” The Feud is a catalog of such twisted clichés, which the characters employ as a way of ordering their chaotic universe. Berger does not condemn them but celebrates their faith in the American vernacular and the energy of their language: “Don’t give me any lip, you runt. You want somepin t’eat, you just gimme your...

(The entire section contains 499 words.)

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