The visual metaphor of the novel as a hall of mirrors has its verbal equivalent in Wideman’s relay of narrative voices. Cudjoe, for example, plays the part of the Pied Piper. Magician and musician, he is also the one who writes and the one about whom is written. “Why this Cudjoe, then?” Wideman (now as narrator) asks. “This airy other floating into the shape of my story. Why am I him when I tell certain parts? Why am I hiding from myself? Is he mirror or black hole?” The novel serves as both mirror and black hole, reflecting and devouring, shedding light (wisdom) and preventing its escape, its real subject being an absence (Simba, for example) detectable only by virtue of the bodies (planetary or human) caught in its gravitational pull. Wideman’s characters are similarly constructed. They are mirrors and voids rather than stable subjects: shifting, shapeless, voiceless (insofar as they have no voice of their own), and disembodied. Having no (one) voice of its own, the novel, like its characters, speaks in an amazing multiplicity of ventriloquized voices and interpolated styles and forms: nursery rhymes, biblical echoes, the radio monologue of a rapper, a dialogue between two mayors (one black, one white), and passages from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest (pr. 1611, pb. 1623) and other texts. It also uses more conventional narrative devices such as dialogue, description, indirect discourse, letters, and a notebook passage. Cudjoe’s thinking and remembering often takes the form of editing, and much of Margaret Jones’s story takes the highly mediated form of a tape recording that Cudjoe plays and fast forwards at will. The narrative discontinuity reflects and echoes the discontinuity of the characters’ (especially Cudjoe’s and Wideman’s) lives as well as a postmodern conception of the human subject and the part narrative plays in its formation.
The second part of the novel, for example, begins by forgoing even the minimal continuity evident in the novel’s opening section, intruding a second narrative presence that both merges with and diverges from Cudjoe. It...
(The entire section is 861 words.)