(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Fork River Space Project is, unlike Ceremony in Lone Tree and The Field of Vision, a story of reconciliation and imaginative triumph. Early in his career, Morris often wrote about characters such as Foley, Proctor, or Boyd, who were at odds with society and frequently engaged their world with open hostility. In the novels written in his later years, however, Morris showed an increased affinity for characters who are at peace rather than at odds with their world. Kelcey, the narrator of The Fork River Space Project, is one such character, and his story of Harry Lorbeer, Lorbeer’s partner Dahlberg, and their search for extraplanetary life illustrates Morris’s firm belief in the regenerative power of the human imagination.

The story of the novel is filtered through the perceptions of Kelcey, who hires two handymen, Dahlberg and Lorbeer, to work on his Kansas house. Made curious by the eccentric work habits of both, Kelcey resolves to find out more about them. He discovers that Dahlberg is a writer of science-fiction stories. In addition, he finds that both spend their weekends in a ghost town named Fork River, where they lead a sect that believes the town to be the future site of a visit from outer space. The basis for such beliefs stems from a mysterious incident that left a huge crater in Fork River. According to legend, the event was caused by an outer-space vehicle that sucked the inhabitants of the town into the heavens. Another, more practical, theory posits that the mysterious formation was caused by a tornado. Dahlberg and Lorbeer, however, know that tornadoes never bore such scars into the earth and for that reason concede the phenomena to be extraterrestrial. Dahlberg, in fact, writes a story, “A Hole in Space,” about the occurrence. Kelcey reads it and is...

(The entire section is 747 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

With the action of the novel narrated by Kelcey, the work is basically the story of his intellectual growth as a result of his contact with the two men who live near the Fork River Space Project, Harry Lorbeer and O. P. Dahlberg. The novel, then, is about a new way of seeing, which Kelcey adeptly explains in the first lines of the novel: “I owe this [new awareness] to Harry Lorbeer. He started me thinking—or should I say seeing?” Yet this novel is not merely the story of how one man teaches another man to understand life more clearly.

As the novel opens, Kelcey and Alice summon Lorbeer to unstop their bathroom sink. Lorbeer, in turn, introduces the couple to O. P. Dahlberg, who agrees to paint their porch and build a rose trellis.

Dahlberg’s peculiar disregard for time and yet meticulous work habits excite Kelcey’s curiosity to the point that he visits the local library to learn about Fork River, where Dahlberg and Lorbeer live. The town is no longer on the map, but as recently as 1940 it had a population of some seven hundred. Kelcey’s research proves to be serendipitous: The librarian recognizes the name Dahlberg as that of a science-fiction writer and finds one of his books, a collection called A Hole in Space and Other Stories, published in 1962. The author’s photograph confirms that Dahlberg the painter and Dahlberg the erstwhile writer are one and the same.

Without Lorbeer’s or Dahlberg’s knowledge,...

(The entire section is 579 words.)