Jack Hodgins Michael Mewshaw - Essay

Michael Mewshaw

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The title of his novel alone—"The Invention of the World"—indicates the extent of Jack Hodgins's ambition. Like Faulkner he wants to create an imaginary precinct within a real place. Like Márquez, he populates it with characters of mythic proportions—a 130-year-old visionary crone, a man sired by a black bull upon a crazy woman. Then like Joyce he sets about forging the uncreated conscience of the race he has conjured.

Conventional storytelling is of secondary, even tertiary importance. Using an impressive array of narrative techniques—soliloquies, interior monologues, taped conversations, letters and newspaper articles—Hodgins is more interested in exploring the nature of reality and truth….

Not surprisingly, the mystery about [Donal Keneally, the legendary founder of the Colony,] is never resolved to everybody's satisfaction, for Truth is not One. It is multitudinous. And, at times, platitudinous….

Given the magnitude of Hodgins's risk-taking, it also shouldn't be surprising that he sometimes falls short of fulfilling his aspirations. Unlike the world of classical myth, the world he invents lacks an omphalos—a focal point around which the disparate elements of his book might successfully coalesce—and Keneally and his Colony can't bear quite so much prolonged scrutiny. But Jack Hodgins seems to have some of the same qualities he gives Keneally—galvanic energy, a powerful, idiosyncratic vision, and a command of language that is nearly equal to the stringent and varied demands he makes upon it. "The Invention of the World" may be flawed, but then so is the world itself.

Michael Mewshaw, "Three Novels: 'The Invention of the World'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 5, 1978, p. 32.