Gone: A Novel
Dubliner Martin Roper, a teacher of Creative Writing at Trinity College, has penned a brilliant debut novel about how a harrowing legacy of loss has damaged one man's soul, rendering him incapable of emotional commitment. The novel's antihero is Stephen, a young Dubliner who spends his life searching in vain for love and a sense of belonging.
The story opens with the death of Stephen's beloved sister Ruth, who succumbs to cancer at age 19. Stephen's mother, we learn, abandoned the family when he was just a boy. Running away becomes a constant theme in Stephen's life. He runs away from his native Dublin, seeking a new life in New York City. He runs away from his wife, and then runs away from the "other woman" too.
Stephen is married to Ursula, a poet and journalist, but there's a growing, unspoken distance between them: "[w]omen and men are railway tracks racing away in the distance, never meeting," Stephen thinks to himself. The couple buy a new house but they are soon terrorized by young vandals who toss rocks through their windows and verbally harass them. The passive Stephen is unable to protect his home from this onslaught --- he feels emasculated in front of his wife. They decide to sell the house, but Stephen decides on something else.
He'll leave Dublin for New York: "In the end I ran, not just from Ursula but from the crude trap of Dublin." In New York, he meets an older woman, a photographer named Holfy, and the two begin an intense relationship. Yet the tug of Dublin remains. Stephen's father dies, and he returns for the funeral. "My father dies happy," Stephen says, "with the inaccurate knowledge that I love him unconditionally." Unconditional love is not a phrase in the wounded Stephen's vocabulary. He attempts to reconcile with Ursula, but he can't bring himself to stay in Dublin and work things out.
Roper writes insightfully, even brutally, about the lies men and women tell one another. Here, Stephen tells Ursula it's over: "I look up...and say I love you and you love me but it's over and I don't want it to be so but it is the truth [.]" He goes back to New York and leaves Holfy. Cast adrift, rootless in a new land, Stephen drives aimlessly across America, contemplating his loneliness: "The core of us is aloneness." Stephen turns to art, to writing, but he can't find his own voice. In art, as in life, he can't keep from repeating the same mistakes. He runs in vain like a hamster trapped in a wheel.
At novel's end, Stephen locates his long-lost mother in Wales. Expecting some emotional reconciliation, some epiphany, he finds only a detached cordiality. Roper refuses to provide a happy ending. Stephen bids his mother good-bye and keeps running. Roper has successfully created a complex, if bleak, emotional landscape of profound longing and regret. GONE, a novel about one man's incapacity for commitment, is well worth getting.
Reviewed by Chuck Leddy on February 6, 2002
Gone: A Novel
- Publication Date: February 6, 2002
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
- ISBN-10: 0805067752
- ISBN-13: 9780805067750