Zeno Was Here

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

John McEvoy, an English teacher at a British boys’ school, leads a prosaic existence. Even though he has never cheated on his wife, she is so insanely jealous that he finds himself accounting for every moment of his time whenever he comes home late. Recently he has begun lying as a matter of course: His recollection of day-to-day events is simply too sketchy to satisfy her, and the best solution seems to be to have an elaborate alibi ready at all times. Careerwise, the high point of the past year was his participation in a locally televised debate on school censorship, in which John argued in defense of dangerous contemporary literature such as THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. The sad fact is that he has not read anything more recent in more than twenty years.

Then, unexpectedly, a contemporary novel arrives in the mail, a garishly jacketed book entitled ACID TEST that describes a young woman’s experience with unscrupulous LSD therapy in a mental institution in the 1960’s. The book has been sent to McEvoy by an old girlfriend whom he barely remembers. In an accompanying note, she claims that one of the “villains” in the novel--a self-centered attendant whose callousness results in a patient’s suicide--is in fact modeled on him.

McEvoy did work at a mental hospital in the 1960’s, and a patient there did commit suicide, but he refuses to believe that he was in any way responsible. Nevertheless, he reads the book again and again, hoping to...

(The entire section is 406 words.)