Michael Brodsky Daphne Merkin - Essay

Daphne Merkin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Michael Brodsky's first novel, Detour, is remarkable precisely because it explores the condition of its own involution—an "I" constantly threatened by its potential for extinction in the face of other, competing "I"s—with an arrogant disregard for anything but the entanglements of that condition…. Perhaps the novel's acute, chronic disengagement is characteristic of the 70s, but it is hard to see where Detour is "about" anything other than its own meticulous, privileged sensibility…. [Brodsky] writes brilliantly, assuredly, but that brilliance cannot be said to have solidified into a style, because it is concerned with something more elementary, with that which predates style: identity. (pp. 453-54)

Detour has to be acknowledged, critically speaking, less for the ways in which it approximates other novels than for the ways in which it departs from them, even fraudulently. Brodsky has unlearned all the age-old, circumscribing rules of storytelling: he shows nothing and narrates everything. The idea of "character" falls hopelessly by the wayside, although there are several differently-named speakers who hold forth in similarly congested, intermittently fascinating monologues. "Anne," for instance, is a former heroin addict whom the unnamed, first-person narrator meets at the Thalia movie theater….

Eventually, after several lengthy soliloquies in which Anne has proven herself to be the narrator's equal in maladaptive tendencies, she accompanies him to Cleveland, where he is to begin medical school. (p. 454)

The narrator abortively attends classes, abortively makes love to Anne, takes a part-time job teaching in a language school from which he is fired. He has, it appears, not yet been...

(The entire section is 731 words.)