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Wednesday, December 8, 2010


This novella is far from an attempt to mirror reality or to point out how artificial novels are. It is neither realism nor metafiction.  Instead, it uses intimate experience to approach a literary classic in a manner that reinterprets it. It also uses the literary classic to consider experience in a profoundly personal way.

This novella is a triple-allegory: experience allegorizes literature and literature allegorizes experience. Finally, Pelton's book serves as an allegory for the original "Bartleby."

"Bartleby" is originally a story by Herman Melville. It concerns a law scrivener, or copywriter, in a 19th-century law office. The lawyer hires Bartleby and is stunned at his output, but haunted by his person and demeanor. He once describes him"scarcely human." A series of strange incidents ensue. The lawyer finds Bartleby living in his offices. Then Bartleby "prefers not to" do any more copying. Instead, he just stands silently in the middle of the office while work goes on around him. I won't spoil the ending, in case you haven't read it.

Pelton's book, "Bartleby, the Sportscaster," the lawyer is replaced by a minor-league sportscaster. He is joined in the booth by Bartleby. Pelton's story differs from Melville's in an important detail: The sportscaster, Ray Yarzejski, is forced to work with Bartleby by the team owner, Simonelli. This proves crucial because in the original Bartleby the lawyer was somewhat responsible for Bartleby given that he hired him. In Pelton's case, Bartleby and his eccentricities were thrust upon Yarzejski. Yet, he reaches out to Bartleby repeatedly, as does the lawyer in the original story.

The most original part of this book is chapter 5, where Pelton suddenly breaks in and provides us with a memoir of his, Pelton's, real break up with his first wife. In it we learn that his wife became mentally and emotionally paralyzed by a number of personal and familial circumstances. Pelton tried to get her out of her funk, but it all failed. He tells us how he became more sympathetic toward the lawyer in "Bartleby." He used to see the lawyer as the law-giving oppressor forcing Bartleby to live a certain way. Now he saw him as trying to help Bartleby.

Here's where Pelton decided to bifurcate the lawyer into two characters, Simonelli and Yarzejski — one is sympathetic and one is, well, capitalist scum.

This is where the allegories begin to be clear: the experience with his wife is compared to the lawyer's experience with Bartleby. Pelton's original interpretation of Bartleby is compared to Simonelli's behavior. Pelton's sympathy for his wife is compared to Yarzejski's feelings for Bartleby, Pelton's and Melville's books as a whole are comparable.

Comparison, of course, is the heart of allegory.

The book raises fascinating questions about the way the stories we tell each other affect the way we treat each other and the way we understand how we treat one another. This book is not "postmodern" or "metafiction," where the very makings of the novel are exposed in their artifice. This book takes the artificiality of the novel as a given, then offers us something new. While this is a funny book in many places, it is a dead serious book in a way many so-called postmodern works didn't seem to be.

It feels as if the author is convinced that literature and stories matter. Absolutely. Novels may be constructions, but they are necessary constructions that set up allegories with experience, if we let them.

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