The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

As a Bildungsroman, Loon Lake focuses on one character, Joe Korzeniowski, who denies his parentage when he gives up his birth name and becomes Joe of Paterson. “Paterson” itself contains the words “pater,” or father, and “son,” and when Joe changes his last name to Bennett, he retains Paterson as a middle name. In his quest to become famous, to become someone, he is an archetypal figure who must enter the allegorical dark woods, endure trials, and then assume his place as the master of Loon Lake. When he leaves New York for California, he is determined to find or create a self, but he in fact becomes what he has to become. He assumes identities, impersonates people, and is torn between the two surrogate fathers, Penfield and Bennett. While Penfield claims that his life is Joe’s life, Joe chooses to become Bennett, although Joe’s role of narrator would seem to ally him with Penfield. Both Penfield (who has written three books of poetry, including one entitled Loon Lake) and Joe (who inherits those works and memories) annotate their texts. Since the fictional narrative ends with Joe’s becoming Bennett, it is tempting to see Joe’s real life, his story, ending when he becomes Bennett and his “life” is reduced to lists of posts, offices, achievements, and failed marriages. Like Bennett, he has no offspring, thereby adding to the idea that sterility is the price of Bennett-like success.

Warren Penfield is also...

(The entire section is 465 words.)