Themes

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Last Updated on May 17, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 291

The novel unites three recurring themes in Berger's work: the apparently random but utterly devastating impact of violence in modern American life; the general spirit of bad manners and surliness which prevails in much of American social life, and which motivates Richie's murders; and the psychological strength of the innocent Berger hero, after he recognizes the nature of the crisis he is in. The first theme had emerged as early in Berger's work as Killing Time (1967), with Berger's study of the benign insanity of Detweiler, and had also erupted in Vital Parts (1970), the third Reinhart novel, in the episode of the rifleman on the observation deck of the skyscraper. The second theme has dominated many of Berger's recent novels, including Neighbors (1980), Being Invisible (1987) and The Houseguest (1988), his trilogy of novels about bad manners. Only in Being Invisible (1987), however, had American bad manners merged into violent crime, with the father who tries to kill his daughter's lover and the psychopath who attempts to rape Catherine, before the invisible Wagner frustrates him. Finally, the third theme of the hero's growth in moral strength resulting from his painful initiation into an adult moral awareness has been affirmed consistently throughout Berger's fiction from Crazy in Berlin (1958) to his most recent fiction.

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Given the familiarity of these themes to the reader of Berger's fiction. Meeting Evil often seems predictable. But the reader who relishes Berger's sense of comic and dramatic irony is likely to continue reading in order to discover how Berger's novel will unfold these themes. Much of the strength of the story results from the fascination the reader is likely to feel for the character of Richie Maranville, who takes the kind of revenge for daily slights and indignities that many have dreamed of.

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