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The tree house confessions por James…

The tree house confessions (edición 1979)

por James McConkey

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Título:The tree house confessions
Autores:James McConkey
Info:New York : Dutton, c1979.
Colecciones:Tu biblioteca

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Tree house Confessions por James McConkey

Añadido recientemente porTimBazzett, WalkerPercy, aftonus4, sharky, MaggieO
Bibliotecas de Figuras NotablesWalker Percy

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James McConkey's THE TREE HOUSE CONFESSIONS (1979), is a novel all but forgotten. McConkey is an author probably not widely known, but I recently ran across an excerpt from his memoir, COURT OF MEMORY, in an anthology called MODERN AMERICAN MEMOIRS, and I was charmed enough to seek out something else by McConkey, and found this book.

THE TREE HOUSE CONFESSIONS, apparently loosely inspired by St Augustine's famous "Confessions" (which provides an epigraph), gives us fifty year-old narrator Peter Warden's rambling and philosophical attempt to explain to his wife, Ann, why he has been so distant - and perhaps clinically depressed - since the death of his aged mother. He has retreated to a treehouse he built years before for his ten year-old son (who died in a freak accident at eleven) where he is writing it all down - his life, or at least what he considers most important to understanding what has happened to him. Augustine (who was also very close to his mother, St Monica) divided his confessions into 13 books. Warden's, thankfully, are not that extensive; his 'confessions' are presented in three books: "Nature," "My Parents," and "Myself." The first two books are a bit slippery, as he first tries to show his place in the natural world that surrounds him (Nature), and then tries to imagine himself into the early lives of his parents, about whom he admittedly knows little, and is no doubt influenced by the fact that his father abandoned him and his mother for a dozen years or more. His father, a failed vintner, was ruined by Prohibition and the Depression, and probably also by a restless spirit and wandering eye. His mother, still haunted by the death of a first son, comes across as something of a dreamy martyr, but does hang in there and raise her second son, Peter. The mother-son bond is perhaps a bit too close, a relationship that adversely affects Peter's own relationships with women. There's a brief wartime marriage (almost nothing is revealed of Peter's army service, only that he was wounded and sent home), to childhood sweetheart Sally, that results in that son, Tommy, passed between grandmothers until Peter and his second wife, Ann, take him in and raise him.

The most accessible section of the book, to my mind, is the last, "Myself." Although there is some overlap between the three 'books' of the novel, this last section tells you the most about Peter's childhood, adolescence and later life than the first two sections. I was most interested in the details of Peter's boyhood on a small island in Lake Erie, with stories of some eccentric neighbors and his wanderings in nature. I wished there had been more details like these, i.e. more showing and less telling.

There is something quaintly archaic, if not off-putting, about the mannered "literariness" (is that a word?) and the pondering of deep philosophical matters in Peter's story. The way, for example, he explains (and this is a letter to his wife, remember) his college years, a time when he -

"... consistently pursued the sanctity of ideas. Purity of a sort, lay in philosophy, in intellectual abstraction."

There also seems to be something of a struggle for Peter in figuring out his own sexual identity, partly due to confusion and guilty feelings about a one-time encounter with another boy during high school. And his repeated failures to respond to free-thinking Sally's very sexual overtures seemed suspect. They finally do spend what seems an idyllic and sensual week together in his college apartment in Cleveland, and then marry, after which he loses all interest in her and she goes back home to the island.

Bottom line, I often just didn't quite know what to make of this book. Some parts I liked very much and others I don't think I got at all. I was suitably impressed by complimentary blurbs for the book by the likes of Eudora Welty, Allison Lurie and Harold Brodkey. But for me it was often a struggle trying to figure out what McConkey was trying to do.

In fact, at the outset of his narrative, Peter admits to Ann, "Aren't these clumsy words?" And finally, toward the end, he again protests his inadequacy, saying, "How can I express what I am trying to say?" And then again: "My words may sound overly rhetorical, as if I were trying to beat myself into some hysterical acceptance of what I am saying, and by convincing myself, convince you."

Hmm ... Well, I would never accuse McConkey of being 'clumsy' with words. Far from it. He proves repeatedly here that he can be quite eloquent. But as for being convinced of whatever it was he was trying to say, well, I'm more confused than convinced. THE TREE HOUSE CONFESSIONS is simply NOT an easy book to read. Which may explain why it has been nearly forgotten. ( )
  TimBazzett | Jan 16, 2015 |
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