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Waking the Dead

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Fielding (“Field”) Pierce, a young attorney about to run for a congressional seat, finds himself flooded with memories of his girlfriend--murdered by terrorists five years previously.

Field was a law student following a carefully laid plan--Ivy League college, law school, then politics -- when he met Sarah Williams, a young woman with a powerful social conscience and feverish opinions. Sarah, a devout Catholic, worked in various jobs connected with the Church and helping the poor; this led to her association with political refugees from Chile. While attempting to assist members of the Church in transportation of these refugees, she was killed by a car-bomb blast. Or was she?

While campaigning for Congress, Field questions his sanity when he begins to hear and see things that cause him to feel that Sarah may still be alive. Although he loved her to distraction, he had difficulty in understanding her single-mindedness -- single-mindedness much like his own, but with a radically different goal.

Scott Spencer has written a novel of vivid characterizations and telling details. He has skillfully juxtaposed two stories here--the political campaign of the present and the love affair of the past--yet the novel’s richest complexity lies not in the plot but in the characters themselves. Spencer’s depiction of the recent past-- the latter years of the Carter administration--evokes a time that is already slowly receding into “history.”

Best known for another story of obsessive love, ENDLESS LOVE, Scott Spencer has produced an intelligent, well-written, and extremely readable novel.

Waking the Dead

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 9)

Scott Spencer’s fictional subject is obsession. In his 1979 best-seller, Endless Love, he dealt with the obsessive nature of adolescent sexuality. In Waking the Dead, Spencer undertakes to deal with two adult obsessions which he sees as more complex but no less destructive. Spencer’s narrator-protagonist, Fielding Pierce, is the victim of two obsessions in conflict with each other, and in the end they destroy him.

Pierce, the son of a blue-collar family from New York, has been programmed by his parents for upward mobility, with political power as his goal. He is obsessed with the idea of attaining high political office and ultimately, perhaps, the presidency. He is encouraged in this by Isaac Green, a power behind the scenes in Chicago politics who takes Pierce under his wing when Green’s own son chooses to leave his father’s orbit and the career that had been planned for him. Pierce inherits that career. In one sense he has trained well for it, through Harvard University, a hitch in the coast guard, and the University of Chicago Law School.

Green is largely responsible for Pierce’s opportunity to take the first major step in realizing his dream. When a Chicago Democratic congressman is forced to resign because of a sexual scandal, Green has enough clout to convince the governor, Kinosis, that Pierce should be the party’s nominee for the seat in Congress, despite the fact that Pierce is only an assistant prosecutor with no real political base. It must be inferred that both Green and Kinosis believe that Pierce will be readily manageable when he gets to Congress and will serve their ends. Pierce himself, convinced that his destiny is calling, makes no protest when they provide him with a campaign team of hack Chicago politicians.

Pierce’s apparently easy progress to Congress is deflected, however, by his second obsession, which in the end proves the more powerful. Five years before his chance to run for Congress, Pierce’s longtime lover, a young woman named Sarah Williams, had been killed by a terrorist bomb. Sarah had lived with him in Chicago and had become part of a Catholic activist group engaged in providing sanctuary for refugees from Latin American political persecution. The bomb which killed her had been intended for two Chilean exiles; she had died only because she was driving them from Chicago to the Twin Cities. Soon after Pierce is...

(The entire section is 2,303 words.)