Going to Patchogue
In 1965, when he is twenty-one, Tom McGonigle, the narrator of this meditative novel, leaves the town where he has grown up. After years in Manhattan and Europe, he returns to his hometown to reexamine himself and the past that haunts him. He is particularly haunted by memories of Melinda, the schoolmate who rejected him, and thoughts of what her present life is like.
McGonigle is searching for his identity, how it was formed, how he can recognize it, how he can salvage what is worth keeping from the wreckage of his life. He discovers that place defines him, whether he is in Patchogue, Greenwich Village, Dublin, or Sofia, Bulgaria. Afraid of growing old, of mortality, he considers suicide but finally chooses the chaos of Greenwich Village over death. In doing so, he rejects Patchogue as a place where a parking lot is considered “the lifeblood of the community.” He depicts his hometown as an anti-intellectual, racist community from which he has been lucky to escape.
GOING TO PATCHOGUE is a highly literary journey of discovery. The opening catalog of definitions of the meaning of Patchogue recalls the opening of Herman Melville’s voyage of discovery, MOBY-DICK (1851). McGonigle’s style, echoing those of James Joyce and Louis-Ferdinand Celine (among others), is primarily stream-of-consciousness into which are mixed poems, newspaper reports, road signs, and photographs. The somewhat monotonous style often makes determining what time and place he is writing about difficult, but this approach is fitting for McGonigle’s themes of displacement and uncertainty.