The Fool’s Progress

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The voice of Henry Lightcap is one of comic despair. He is an irascible antihero who has an opinion about everything from French cuisine to feminism. The novel opens with the angry departure of his third wife, Elaine, leaving Henry to reflect on the ruins of his life. Left to his own devices, Henry proceeds to polish off a good quantity of Wild Turkey and then to finish off the hated humming of the refrigerator with his .357 Magnum. One’s sympathies are initially with Elaine until one learns that she is a follower of fads, a seeker of meaning in modernity. Henry remembers her foray into cuisine francaise, inflicting him with oeuf poche en aspic. “What’s this?” he inquires. “Poached egg in aspic,” she responds. Henry thinks it looks like something “out of a horse’s hoof.” Their meals become a time of guarded investigation. Henry fishes up a strange substance from the bottom of a Japanese stew that Elaine has specially created for his pleasure, “something dead white, a languid, soft, invertebrate substance.” “What’s this?” he inquires.

Upon discovering that the offending substance is tofu, “soybean mash,” he reflects that “in America we make cattle eat it.” Like his creator, Edward Abbey, Henry Lightcap has raised being offensive into an art form, and one of the hidden pleasures of reading THE FOOL’S PROGRESS is that nobody’s cows are sacred. There is an evenhandedness in Lightcap’s vitriolic observations. Neither...

(The entire section is 405 words.)