The Wonder-Worker Summary
by Dan Jacobson

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The Wonder-Worker Summary

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Wonder-Worker begins with the relatively straightforward account of Timothy Fogel’s conception on the Isle of Wight and his subsequent (and unexpected, since his mother did not know that she was pregnant) birth on the floor of Robinson’s tobacco store in London. After Timothy’s birth and the fire that occurs simultaneously (Gerhard Fogel, his father, left the kettle on the stove in the apartment), Dan Jacobson’s readers know that the Fogels are among life’s losers, especially when Gerhard considers the possibility of Mr. Truter’s being Timothy’s biological father. The plot, however, does not proceed until Jacobson’s unnamed narrator introduces himself, describes his creations, the Fogels, as “caricatures, cartoons, cheap satiric spooks” who “parody” real people, and reveals that he “may be in a bad way, in need of a rest” in the institution where he is confined. Throughout the remainder of the novel, Jacobson shifts back and forth from the narrator’s life to Timothy’s life until the creator and his creation apparently fuse.

Timothy’s life is irrevocably shaped by his playground encounter with Susie Sendin when he is four years old. His effort to impress her on the swings, his failure, and her scornful response characterize his relationship with her throughout the novel: her existence is “entwined with his.” When she taunts him about his mother and Truter, Timothy retreats from the real world and discovers that he can transform himself into a brick. While there are limits to his ability to do transmutations—he cannot become Maureen as she dies—the transmutations do provide him with a “release from pain and desire, from time.” In school, Timothy befriends Laurence Sendin, Susie’s brother, and begins to visit the Sendin home, where he steals Susie’s empty spectacle case. When Laurence shows him some of the jewels he has stolen, Timothy keeps one of the rings and puts it in Susie’s case, which becomes the repository for other stones he acquires.

After leaving school, Timothy goes to work at his father’s secondhand store, which becomes a convenient place for him to “fence” the stolen goods Laurence brings him. When he informs Susie of his plans for his own jewelry store and discusses “crystalline evolution, projected life, and solid state sublimation” with her, she concludes that he is mad and tells him that she will never belong to him. Yet she continues to taunt him, even pairing him with Mabel, one of her unattractive friends, in order to spy on them; Timothy, in turn, spies on Susie and her lover, a married man who impregnates her. Thwarted in the real world, Timothy turns, like his “creator,” to making up scenarios about his life with Susie, but those word “games” result in his murder of Susie. Another indication of Timothy’s increasing violence is his attack on Elsie Brody, his stepmother, who has been, to the paranoid Timothy, prying into his life. After his unsuccessful attack on Elsie (accomplished ostensibly by a transmutation in which he becomes her necklace and then strangles her), Timothy lures Susie to his apartment and kills her, possessing her in death as he could not in life. After her death he, like his “creator,” writes more scenarios; then, after deciding that he “no longer cares about Susie,” he feels the need of a “holiday” and “treatment,” which he can get in Switzerland, where the narrator is, predictably, also being treated.

While the plot involving Timothy spans some twenty years, Jacobson devotes much less time to events in the narrator’s life. When the novel begins, the...

(The entire section is 893 words.)