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ABC: A Novel by David 	 Plante
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ABC: A Novel

by David Plante

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Showing 5 of 5
I read through the first 10 pages and had to give up. 10 pages was very generous, I feel; I knew by the third sentence that the writing in this book was terrible:

For all the ten years Gerard had been spending his summers on the other side of the lake in the house his wife, Peggy, had inherited from a rich uncle, the cove with the abandoned house overlooking it had been the end of every canoe ride.

Eesh. This is either a poorly-written book or a crime against humanity. ( )
  librarybrandy | Mar 30, 2013 |
Without a doubt – the worst book I've ever read. A horrid mishmash of philology, philosophy, and obsession with “the dead”. His son dead from an accident, Gerard becomes obsessed with discovering the origin of the order of the alphabet. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? During this quest he happens upon other lost souls who've lost dear ones to death. Each of these has the same alphabet-obsession, the same obsession with the book L'Histoire de L'Ecriture, and the same sense of being compelled by “the dead” (not their own dead, but the all-encompassing “dead”).

...to see on a wall the graffito of a political slogan, wasn't that, in each case, to see an icon with an iconography so vast it took in all of Greek history, and, more, all of Western history, and, even more, all of world history, and even more than that. What did it all mean? What did it all mean?

....all we can ever know of something, if this can be called knowing, Is to have an impression of that something, nothing more than an impression. He said we don't understand, we have impressions, in the same way we can only have an impression of everything all together and can never understand everything all together, because everything all together, everything in the world all together, is an impossibility. And that's the most we can expect of our reasoning minds, which can't say what anything really means.

No character development, very little sense of place, no real story. Just obsessions wrapped up in gobbledy-goop. ( )
  countrylife | Aug 1, 2011 |
ABC by David Plante (2008)
  Francostudies | Feb 5, 2009 |
Although Plante's novel is a well-written study of grief, it founders on its own premise. When Gerard and Peggy Chauvin lose their son in an accident in an abandoned house, Gerard's inability to successfully mourn is exemplified by his growing obsession with the question "why?" - an obsession that leads to a consuming digression into the origins of the alphabet. Why are the letters arranged sequentially as they are and who made it so? This question - which deflects a much more painful incomprehension - haunts not just Gerard but several other people he meets during the course of his investigations into the alphabet.

The novel starts off well, with a story of tragedy and its immediate aftermath that rings extraordinarily true. Yet as it proceeds further and further into Gerard's alphabetic obsession, it starts to become tedious. There is a lot of worthwhile information about the history of the Indo-European alphabet, but in truth this becomes the fulcrum for the novel's capitulation into mystique and faux-intrigue. This is the point, of course. Gerard and his fellow travellers on the byways of loss are consumed by this red herring because they must be, and so they study a question as unresolvable as their real concern: the dilemma of love and loss. A tidy premise, but not one that particularly interests.

Perhaps Plante's novel suffers from the limitations of his task: to characterize the melancholic's struggle with lost meaning. There are few handholds for the reader in such emotionally arid terrain. Gerard's strained relationship with his wife - another promising part of the story - is simply, perhaps realistically, dropped. Another reviewer described Gerard as ghostly and I would agree. Incapable of mourning, he is also incapable of relation, becoming consumed by the (alphabetic) past and relinquishing the future. He and his lost companions become increasingly irrelevant, and their story, well, irritating.

As a melancholic sort myself, I felt that [ABC: A Novel] , through its failure, poses an interesting question: is it possible to write engagingly about melancholia, about lost meaning? How does a book that takes on this task avoid alienating and taxing the patience of its readership? It is an important question because as a culture we are always at risk of dismissing such problems as insurmountable grief as merely tedious and the sad purview of irrelevant losers - an attitude that does little to address the suffering of melancholia or the insight it produces.

If it weren't for the fact that I was truly annoyed by the time I finished this book, I would give it a higher rating just for posing such questions. As it is, though, all I can do is hope that someone else comes up with a better approach. ( )
  cocoafiend | Dec 28, 2008 |
I read the review for “ABC” in the Seattle Times book section…and something about the review grabbed hold of my imagination and would not let go until I purchased the book last week. The exact words or impression of the review have slipped from my grasp, and now that I look down at my finished copy of the book, I find myself wondering “Why?”

Which is, of course, the central question of this book. The main character(s) spend most of the book asking the question…while not asking either the correct “Why?” or desiring an answer. Gerard, then Catherine, then David and then Aminat are lost souls, tortured by grief…in the world but no longer of the world.

In the beginning of the novel, there is a crack as a floorboard, as Gerard’s knee, as his life and consciousness snap. There was a “before” and now there is only “after”. Time and space become amorphous. We start to doubt his reliability as a main character…I found myself wondering again and again if he was actually still alive. His impact on his wife, his world seems so minimal that he is very ghost-like.

Instead of wondering “Why?” about the death of his son, Harry, his closed off grief leads him on a quest to find out why the letters of the alphabet are in that particular order. It’s a question without an answer…as is his real question. Because he can’t confront what has happened and can’t move forward in a world without Harry, Gerard leaves that world almost entirely behind.

Any time, however, his search for order seems to come close to yielding a result, he backs off, or destroys the clue or refuses to see what is in front of him. Because, of course, if he ever gains the answer to the unanswerable question regarding the alphabet, he might be forced to confront reality.

This review seems very jumbled and confusing, even as I create it. This book leaves me with many questions…mostly along the lines of “What did I miss?” Time and reality and space are so fluid in this book that not only did I doubt the characters impressions of what was happening, I found myself doubting mine. A few quotes stand out:

“Grief, he thought. Grief. Grief seemed to have concentrated itself to exist in itself apart from them, though still in their midst, a globe about which they talked and gestured and moved, a small group of lonely people distanced from the world, aware only of another world englobing the world, which was grief.”

And yet – Gerard is SO far removed from the death of his son – that I never FELT this grief. Any time he even moved a hair’s breadth towards an actual feeling, he backed away. The reader, along with Gerard, is just numb to emotions.

“Leaving this site, he would leave the dead behind, they who denied him his human grief. He would allow in himself what grief did to make him human – in himself and for himself, and too in and for Catherine and David and Aminat, because they needed, all together, to be free of the dead.”

By the time Gerard has this thought, I find myself wondering if this shell of a man would be able to exist were he free of the dead, and if so, what life he had left to lead. He has left this world, in spirit if not in body as well. ( )
  karieh | Dec 2, 2007 |
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From the canoe, stilled on the still cove of the lake, the land was reflected in detail in the water: branches and leaves and pinecones, berry bushes, and the stone-and-timber house on the steep bank among trees.
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...if you have come to me to explain why an ox head, then a dwelling, then a throwing stick, then a door or ate, then a window, then a nail, then the division of night and day, why such an arrangement, which you may believe, with some justification, originally comprised, all together, a meaning, as do the words of a sentence, I must tell you that I have no idea why.” … We all might wonder, with awe, that what every schoolchild, whether trained to use the Cyrillic, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, or Sanskrit alphabet, takes entirely for granted, unites us now with the historical evolution of a culture some four thousand years old. … But, I repeat, I can be of no help to you in your need to find out why ABC”
We live in an unreal world – a world of coincidences, of improbabilities, of fantasy – but it is only in the unreal world that meaning can be found for the real world, if meaning matters at all.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 037542461X, Hardcover)

From the critically acclaimed author of more than a dozen novels comes a luminous and haunting story about grief and obsession, and about the need for meaning at the center of all of our lives.

In ABC’s unforgettable opening scene, Gerard, Peggy, and their 6-year-old son Harry are canoeing in a New Hampshire cove and come upon an abandoned wreck of a house they have observed for years but never entered. When Harry presses his parents to let him go and explore, Gerard follows him in and watches in horror as a freak accident he is powerless to stop unfolds before him, and a summer family idyll becomes, in an incalculable instant, the beginning of unbearable anguish.

Moments before Harry died, Gerard had picked up a crumpled piece of paper with letters of an unknown alphabet, which he later learns is Sanskrit. In the weeks following the accident he becomes obsessed with the origins of Indo-European alphabets, his fascination growing as boundless as his grief--and soon taking its place. Now, in pursuit of the story of the alphabet, he leaves his home, Peggy, his teaching job, and bands together with other grief-stricken “abecedarians” who believe that the alphabet as we know it had in its origins a meaning they are intent on uncovering. Their quest takes them to England, Greece, and finally, to an ancient site in the Syrian desert where the alphabet was incised on clay tablets some 4000 years ago. Yet what Gerard seeks is something beyond historical knowledge, and his journey itself has a meaning only revealed to him at its end.

A signally original and radiant novel, ABC illuminates the mysteries human life is full of, both in its horror and its joy.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:37 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Gerard, Peggy, and their six-year-old son, Harry, are canoeing in a New Hampshire cove and come upon an abandoned wreck of a house they have observed for years but never entered. When Harry presses his parents to let him explore, Gerard follows him in and watches in horror as a freak accident he is powerless to stop unfolds before him and a summer family idyll becomes, in an incalculable instant, the beginning of unbearable anguish." "Moments before Harry died, Gerard picked up a crumpled piece of paper with letters of an unknown alphabet, which he later learns is Sanskrit. In the weeks following the accident Gerard becomes obsessed with the origins of Indo-European alphabets, his fascination growing as boundless as his grief - and soon taking its place. In pursuit of the story of the alphabet, Gerard leaves his home, Peggy, and his teaching job and bands together with other grief-stricken "abecedarians," who believe that the alphabet as we know it had in its origins a meaning they are intent on uncovering. Their quest takes them to England, Greece, and, finally, to an ancient site in the Syrian desert where the alphabet was incised on clay tablets some four thousand years ago. Yet what Gerard seeks is something beyond historical knowledge and his journey itself has a meaning revealed to him only at its end."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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