(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Nothing about twentieth century America pleases Allie Fox. This ingenious Harvard University dropout-turned-handyman is sickened by all he sees around him: fast food, pornography, drugs, pollution, television, violence, and shoddy, overpriced merchandise. Through the eyes of his thirteen-year old son Charlie, the novel’s narrator, readers realize that if the world would only run according to this self-taught Yankee engineer’s parameters and specifications, everything would be perfect. In Father’s estimation, America is going belly-up—the end of the world is nigh—and he is bound and determined to save his family.

Without warning, Father takes his four children and their mother from their home in rural Massachusetts to a ship in Baltimore’s harbor. By the time they arrive at Jeronimo, Honduras, a remote upriver town he buys, Father has convinced them that America will be destroyed by war and that they can never go home again. Here, in a godlike fashion, Father, a present-day Robinson Crusoe, dazzles the natives and reigns supreme, creating order out of chaos. An efficiently functioning farm, houses, sidewalks, barns—all designed by Father—and abundant crops sprout up overnight. He miraculously controls the elements by creating Fat Boy, a gigantic contraption that spews out blocks of ice. While Father battles nature, the children adapt to their natural surroundings. They clear the Acre, where wild fruit and vegetables grow in profusion next to a natural spring. Here they act out against their father’s dominion by playing at going to school, shops, and church.

For a while, this updated Swiss Family Robinson lives in harmony with their new physical surroundings, but Father’s quest...

(The entire section is 704 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Allie “Father” Fox is an angry man, living in a valley in western Massachusetts with his wife and four children and working on Tiny Polski’s asparagus farm while continuing to invent machines. Earlier, the family had lived in Maine, where Father had tried organic farming and creating solar energy, both of which were failures. He had considered the move to Massachusetts a chance to start over.

Father and his oldest son, Charlie, visit Polski with one of Father’s new inventions, a self-contained box that makes ice out of fire and ammonia. Polski makes fun of the invention. Father, already fed up with American culture because of its pornography, religion, materialism, drugs, and waste, plans to move—unknown to the rest of the family. He takes the family shopping, railing at the flimsiness of the merchandise and its prices. Charlie is full of foreboding, which is intensified when he later visits Polski, who warns him that Father is the most obnoxious man he has ever met.

The family sets sail from Baltimore on the ship Unicorn. Aboard, they meet the family of the Reverend Spellgood, whom Father baits and toys with. Charlie learns from Emily Spellgood, the reverend’s daughter, that the Unicorn is headed for the coast of Honduras. Reverend Spellgood has a missionary church in Guampu, upriver from the Mosquito coast. The Foxes land on the coast at La Cieba, where Father buys the deed to a remote town, Jeronimo, from a drunk he meets. He hires Mr. Haddy’s motor launch to ferry them upriver to Jeronimo, which turns out to be a muddy area in the forest with one rusty, tin-roofed shack.

The locals, the Zambus, help Mr. Haddy unload his launch while the Foxes are greeted with gifts of food by the Maywit family, also consisting of two parents and four children, who inhabit the shack. Father immediately visualizes the town he will create here and hires all the men present, including Mr. Maywit, to help him build it. Soon, with Mother working alongside the men, the land is cleared.

Mr. Haddy returns from the coast with a missionary whom Father soon forces to leave. Over the next few weeks, they build a house, plant crops, pave paths, and build a pump wheel on the river that supplies water. Father then has the men build a huge plant of sorts filled with strange plumbing—a tall replica of the ice-making machine that Polski had spurned. Charlie names the machine Fat Boy.

When Fat Boy is finally operational, Father decides to bring ice up the river to the most primitive town he can find, to “enlighten” the indigenous people of the village. He wraps a block of ice in banana leaves and sets off with...

(The entire section is 1094 words.)