(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Resuscitation of a Hanged Man is a story about the search for faith and redemption in a chaotic and uncertain world. The book is divided into four sections, and Leonard English’s quest for redemption follows some of the conventions of a detective story. The first section covers Leonard’s arrival in Provincetown, on Cape Cod, at the end of 1980; the second covers most of the next year, during which time Ray Sands dies from a heart attack and Leonard becomes increasingly obsessed with the case of a missing artist named Gerald Twinbrook. In the third section of the book, “May-June,” Leonard finds Twinbrook but fails to find the absolution he is seeking. Twinbrook died when he hanged himself, but without faith he cannot be reborn. In “Last Days,” the final section of the book, Leonard finds salvation in jail, having tried to redeem himself in a failed attempt to assassinate the local bishop. In his punishment—imprisonment—he finds the order and certainty he has been seeking.

Leonard arrives in Provincetown, a popular summer resort, during the off season. His arrival is hardly propitious: He wrecks his car and has to be driven into town in a taxi. He has come to work at two part-time jobs, one as a radio announcer and the other as a private investigator. His boss, Ray Sands, a former police detective, runs both the radio station and a private-detective agency in town. Leonard is not only here for the jobs; he is running from his failed suicide attempt and a crisis in faith.

His first day in Provincetown reveals a town full of transvestites and homosexuals. Already, Leonard’s shaky sense of self is challenged. He makes an unsuccessful confession at the local church, where he also meets Leanna Sousa, with whom he falls in...

(The entire section is 721 words.)