(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Set in a large unnamed American city in the Midwest that seems much like St. Louis, The MacGuffin is the story of some two days in the life of Bobbo Druff, commissioner of streets. The novel successfully functions on many levels; it exhibits a multifaceted complexity in that it is the story of a family, a love intrigue of the husband with mistress, a murder mystery, a tale of smuggling, and a political statement. While being all of these, it is mostly about Bobbo Druff and “The MacGuffin,” his psychological other and controlling self.

The MacGuffin has no chapter or sectional divisions; Elkin unfolds the narrative entirely by relating the thoughts and actions of Bobbo Druff during a Friday and Saturday of some unspecified weekend in the early 1990’s. Even so, the novel is structured around some six to eight episodic adventures, determined primarily by Druff’s physical location. Great portions of the novel are internal monologues, many of which are between Druff and The MacGuffin; other internal monologues occur as well, and there are also interchanges in dialogue with other characters.

When the novel opens, readers learn almost immediately of the recent mysterious death of Su’ad al-Najaf, a young college student and an illegal immigrant from Lebanon who sold rugs and dated Druff’s son, Michael. Su’ad had died some forty hours before the beginning of the present action, having been repeatedly run over by an automobile. Druff somehow understands that he is connected with the death, but he does not know how. It is not clear if Druff is merely neurotic and paranoid or correct in his suspicions. The reader has many reasons to believe Druff is not mentally balanced: He continues to get high on coca leaves throughout the novel, and his mind wanders hopelessly, revealing him to be unacceptably solipsistic and at least a borderline psychotic. Too, the highs from the coca leaves are mixed with the effects of numerous prescription medicines.

In the second main episode of the novel, Druff meets Margaret Glorio, a buyer of men’s clothing for department stores who claims to be forty-four years old but later acknowledges that she is “fifty, more or less.” Witty, worldly, and experienced, the two soon agree to a liaison that night. Druff, who is fifty-eight years old and has never been unfaithful in his thirty-six-year marriage to Rose Helen, quickly and guiltlessly goes to Margaret’s apartment, where the whole affair is enacted humorously. Both characters banter in what becomes a satire on sex and adultery.

Druff returns home to wife and son early the next morning and sleeps until noon. Meanwhile, Elkin...

(The entire section is 1095 words.)